Chocolate loves me. Really. When I eat it, it does wonderful things to my body and my mind. Of course, my definition of chocolate is somewhat narrow. You can scratch anything made by Hershey’s. Ditto with industrial candy bars. In fact, most American industrial chocolate is insipid, overly sweet and waxy feeling. Sure, it can give the untrained palate a quick thrill but why settle for a quick thrill when real chocolate can take you on an incomparable intergalactic journey?
What is real chocolate? The legal definition of chocolate varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Luckily, governmental regulation of chocolate is beyond the scope of this post. As long as labeling laws require all* the ingredients to be listed, we, as consumers, are perfectly capable of using our gray cells and taste buds to determine what deserves the appellation of chocolate and what does not.
Whether dark or milk, industrial or artisanal, good chocolate must have certain characteristics: it must be smooth and have the right “mouthfeel”, be sweet enough but not too sweet, be firm but not too hard. Its flavor must be complex. In short, the key to good chocolate is … balance. Such balance requires high quality ingredients, proper techniques and savoir-faire on the part of the chocolate maker.
My favorite chocolates are typically the creations of artisan chocolatiers. One of my favorite rituals in Paris is to go on a chocolatier tour… I start with Patrick Roger on Boulevard St Germain and work my way down towards Rue Bonaparte and Rue d’Assas where other wonderful chocolatiers have set up shop. Afterwards, I cross the Seine and wander around the Rue St Honoré and Faubourg St Honoré. In each chocolatier shop, I taste an assortment of basic and fancy chocolate squares, both to enjoy and to compare. I take notes of my overall impression of each chocolate as well as its characteristics. More importantly, I slowly savor and enjoy each square.
The essence of lesson 1: Eating chocolate should be a joyful, consciousness-raising experience. If you’re going to eat chocolate, make sure it is good chocolate and enjoy it!
Footnote: *The definition of “all” in this context could be the subject of a different post, as could the subject of evil lobbying by certain chocolate manufacturers associations to legalize the use of hydrogenated oils and other cheap, inferior substitutes for delicious cocoa fat, in chocolate. I will likely write about these subjects in a later post.