Sunday, 10 January 2016

Chocolate Tasting and Love of Food

Last night, Understanding Frenchman and I were invited to a friend's house to take part in a chocolate tasting. Our friend's mother, who used to work in the chocolate business, was visiting from the US. In her previous job, she organised tastings for companies, as well as travelling all over the world to find out about people's tastes in chocolate, and she had very kindly prepared a session for us.

We were a diverse group, with French people, Americans, South Americans, Spanish, Romanians and me. Our friend's mum explained that people's tastes are shaped by the culture that they grow up in because of what is available, what they are used to and what they are told is good. She then went on to tell us about the different types of cocoa beans: Criollo, Trinitario and Forastero. Criollo is the rarest, because it is less disease-resistant and produces fewer pods, Forastero is the most common and Trinitario is a hybrid of the two which is supposed to be of a higher quality than Forastero. She also explained about the Dutch Process, where alkalising agent is added to chocolate to make it taste less acidic.

We tasted the different types of chocolate in a similar way to how you taste wine. First we examined the surface to see how shiny it was, then we broke the pieces next to our ears to hear what the snap sounded like. After that we had to smell it, before putting a tiny morsel in our mouths and smoothing it over our palates while breathing in the flavours.

I love doing things like this, basically, I think, because I like food! Even with normal meals, I'm quite a slow eater because I enjoy taking the time to savour the flavours, so it's fun every so often to slow that process right down and really figure out what the different tastes are and why they are there. I find it frustrating, though, when I can't put my finger on a particular flavour and find the exact words to describe it.

Compared to wine, I would say it was less easy to identify the tastes of other foods in the chocolate. (While a lot of wine-tasting notes can be quite pretentious, it's true that you can often pick out fruity, woody or spicy notes and I have even genuinely tasted banana in Beaujolais Nouveau, which often supposedly tastes of exotic fruits.) A few of the chocolates were like this - one was quite fruity, and another had a kind of farmyard-y taste which I associate with goat's cheese (Incidentally, this was the most expensive of all the chocolate we tried, but nobody in the group liked it!). For most of them, however, the biggest differences were in how deep the smell and taste of chocolate was, and whether it had a sharp aftertaste which I would have described as bitter. This taste is quite common in high-quality chocolate but I personally don't like it much.

Most of the chocolate we tasted was from French manufacturer François Pralus, and my favourite was a Brazilian one which had a strong chocolate taste that was quite creamy. Just for fun, our friend's mum had also slipped in some Cadbury's and some Hershey's and I have to admit that the Cadbury's went on my list as the perfect unsophisticated but comforting chocolate, both in its dark and milky varieties. The Hershey's, on the other hand, I found had a really nasty aftertaste, which apparently may be down to the fact that Hershey's, which was originally designed to be long-lasting during the war, is made with soured milk, while the milk in Cadbury's chocolate is caramelised. But of course, I was brought up on Cadbury's chocolate, and it was always given to us as a great treat, so perhaps this preference is purely psychological!

1 comment:

  1. This sounds so interesting and enjoyable. Obviously I also love chocolate. I think the Cadbury's vs. Hershey's thing is cultural because I have a British friend who loves Cadbury's, while I like Hershey's and have never noticed this aftertaste of which you speak! Did not know about the differently prepared milk-- will add that to my mental trivia knowledge.