I’m preparing for the annual chocolate frenzy, and am paging through the catalog of Valrhona chocolates. They have twenty or thirty separate types of chocolate, each with its own flavor and purpose. And I am thinking how silly the whole craze for 70, 80, 90% cocoa solids chocolate is. The percentage of cocoa solids says nothing about the quality of the chocolate. All it tells you, exactly and precisely, is how much sugar is in the chocolate. (For dark chocolate, anyway. Milk chocolates are a whole ‘nother matter.)
What cocoa solids percentage does NOT tell you is:
- the quality of the beans
- the flavor overtones of the beans
- the intensity of flavor
- the working properties of the chocolate.
It’s like boasting that a cheese is 50% butterfat. Great, so it’s got a lot of fat in it, and it probably melts pretty nicely. But is it a Brie? a Camembert? a Blue cheese? an Edam? a cheddar? These all hover around 50% fat by weight, but they taste TOTALLY different. The same can be said for chocolates.
One important thing to keep in mind when working with chocolate is the percentage of cocoa butter. While it says nothing about flavor quality, it does tell you something about the working properties of chocolate. A bar that is low in cocoa butter and high in cocoa powder will (assuming the same beans are used) have more intense flavor than a bar that is high in cocoa butter and low in cocoa powder, but it will not melt as smoothly. So a low cocoa butter content chocolate is better used for truffle centers, and a high cocoa butter content chocolate is better used for enrobing (dipping things into). A chocolate with low cocoa butter will also tend to be more viscous – there’s at least one supermarket chocolate which you can completely melt in the microwave and still see the logo!
Unfortunately, most manufacturers do not publish data on cocoa butter content. Valrhona does, which is handy to know because % cocoa butter determines how much I need to add for truffle centers. (Cocoa butter is the “cement” that hardens truffle centers, since it firms up/crystallizes when cooled.)
At any rate, I am paging through their 41 types of chocolate, and determining which I want to sample. I’m primarily interested in their non-organic dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate lines, not the flavored types of chocolate (orange, coffee, caramel, etc.) or the unsweetened chocolates. That brings it down to a “mere” 26 flavors, 9 of which I haven’t yet tried. (To be fair to me, four of them are newly introduced.) The frustrating part is that the flavors mostly come only in 3 kg packages, meaning that if I wanted to try all 9, I’d have to buy nearly 60 lbs of chocolate, leaving no room to buy my favorites!
So I am paging through, reading the descriptions, and deciding what to order. Do I try “Ashanti”, which “captivates with its full body and round savours, intense in chocolate with delicate hazelnut nuances and entangled spiciness of liquorice, cinnamon and Tonka beans”? Or do I test out “Palmira”, an estate-grown chocolate with “subtle flavours behind a tannic veil and suave notes of hot milk and honey,” “exceptional persistence on the palate and notes of freshly baked bread and yellow fruit”? What about “Nyangbo”, “uniquely rounded notes with a warm chocolatey taste, giving way to a second attack filled with spicy flavors”?
In the end, to be honest, I’ve never found their descriptions terribly useful. I’m sure they’re accurate and helpful to people who have a flavor vocabulary, but I’ve never found wine descriptions helpful, except in a very general sense. (I like fruit flavors and don’t like oaky ones.) So I typically try every new dark chocolate they introduce (two this year), one or two of the milk chocolates (four I’ve never heard of), and maybe one of the flavored chocolates. This year, it’s going to be Ashanti, Nyangbo, and Palmira from the dark chocolates. There’s also an 80% dark chocolate, Coeur de Guanaja, that is billed as “for connoisseurs of intense chocolate, a technical chocolate of high quality and LOW cocoa butter content”, which I don’t intend to try. I’m going to skip their organic chocolates (I tried some last year and it was awful), and sample only one of the new milk chocolates, since I don’t use much milk chocolate in my confections. Must have SOME semblance of self-control…
And then I will order some of my favorites. Extra Bitter, which is a good all-around, warm, dark-roasted chocolate, useful for anything that requires a relatively neutral chocolate. Alpaco, a chocolate from Ecuador, which has flowery overtones and goes devastatingly, gloriously well with my jasmine-vanilla-orange-blossom-honey caramels. Caraibe, a warm and slightly nutty-tasting chocolate. Ivoire, a wonderfully fragrant white chocolate. It’s so hard to pick what to buy when it comes in 6-pound packages and you want it all! And I am only making about 60 lbs of chocolate this year (which includes fudges etc.) so I probably want to order no more than 40-50 pounds, which is only about 6-8 packages. Out of all these flavors!
Life is so unfair. 🙂
On the other hand, the glory of making 60 lbs of chocolate is that I DO get to taste all these flavors…because I don’t eat chocolate much myself, if I didn’t make these huge batches of chocolates I wouldn’t get to taste them at all. So I’ll glory in what I can get instead of what I can’t. 🙂 I consider myself pretty darned lucky, all told.
Oh, and I have settled on my new “business card”:
I decided “adventurer” was a little more precise, with a little more “punch” than “explorer”. Mike thinks the subtitle is a little over the top, but then, a business card is a sales pitch of sorts, so I think I’m OK with it. At any rate, at CatPrint, a web printing service, the total cost of 300 business cards plus shipping is only about $35, so if I don’t like it I can always change it.