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Chocolate Appreciation

by Pam Williams

Let's take a very quick look at the chocolate making process before proceeding with our tasting. The fruit of the cocoa tree produces chocolate. The fruit is a pod slightly similar in appearance to an acorn squash, containing lots of small fleshy white beans rather like almonds in size and shape. They are encased in a white mucilage and aligned along a spine-like membrane called the placenta.

The cocoa pods are carefully harvested by hand, cracked open and the beans removed. The beans ferment in a pile or box and start the process that helps to develop the characteristic flavour, color, aroma and taste of chocolate. The beans are then dried in the sun or a shed depending on the season until they have reduced in weight about 50% and retain only 6 – 8% humidity. They are then bagged and shipped to the chocolate maker.

After arriving at the factory, the beans are carefully roasted and winnowed to remove the outer skin. The skin is discarded leaving what is referred to in the industry as the "nib." The nibs are coarsely ground in process that releases the fat of the bean, called cocoa butter, to mix with the cocoa been solids into a fluid paste. The cocoa paste is then know as "cocoa liquor" which contains approximately 50% each cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

Each chocolate maker produces a different product by blending the variables: type of cocoa bean, roasting time and cocoa butter to cocoa solids ratio.

The cocoa liquor is then mixed with flavoring ingredients such as sugar, vanilla, lecithin and finely ground to decrease particle size and make the particles more uniform. Then the paste is put into a conching machine. The conch further refines the product and produces a very smooth "mouth feel." The amount of time the chocolate stays in the couch is determined by the chocolate maker. Chocolate destined for mass production spends decidedly less time in the couch than "couverture," the premium quality, high cocoa butter fat chocolate used for fine chocolates.


Chocolate Tasting

If you are a confirmed chocoholic or a serious bystander, learning about chocolate can best be done by tasting. There are three elements that come together in a fine chocolate: how quickly chocolate melts in the mouth, the smoothness of the chocolate across the tongue and the intensity of the flavour. You will be evaluating all these elements in your tasting.

Ingredients per person:

2 oz/55g Supermarket baking chocolate or chocolate chips -- semi sweet flavour

2 oz/55g Supermarket baking chocolate or chocolate chips -- milk chocolate flavour

2 oz/55g Supermarket or Drug store premium Chocolate bar -- plain semisweet chocolate

2 oz/55g Supermarket or Drug store premium Chocolate bar -- plain milk chocolate

2 oz/55g Finest quality semisweet chocolate pieces from a specialty chocolatier or chocolate maker.

2 oz/55g Finest quality milk chocolate pieces from a specialty chocolatier or chocolate maker.

First look at the different products: Do they all have an even gloss and deep warm color?

Now give a smell: Use your nose to detect the intensity of the aroma and any other additives, like vanilla. Now, taste 1/3 of each chocolate starting with the baking chocolate, then the drug store chocolate bar and finally the couverture for:

Cocoa butter content and quality: Cocoa butter melts at a lower temperature than other vegetable oils used in chocolate so the quicker it melts in your mouth, the higher the cocoa butter content. Also, as you swallow, the chocolate should dissipate leaving only the flavour behind, not a oily or waxy feel.

Length of time spent and care taken in couching: As the chocolate melts in your mouth, rub your tongue against the roof of your mouth. You shouldn't feel any "grit" or chalky residue. A very important factor in chocolates, mousses and frozen chocolate desserts.

Quality of the Cocoa beans: Using your nose and mouth, concentrate on the flavour of the chocolate. The characteristic deep, slightly bitter flavour of the chocolate shouldn't be disguised by sugar or vanilla. Even the milk chocolate should have an intense chocolate flavour that lingers on your tongue.

Remember that you have over 1/2 pound (!) of chocolate with which to work. You can use less that 1/3 of the each chocolate for a taste. Have fun and enjoy!

Pam Williams is founder and lead instructor of Ecole Chocolat Professional Chocolatier School of Chocolate Arts.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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