Chocolate is like wine. Its flavour is affected by many different variables such as origin, climate, soil and processing techniques. This only gets you half way though. Then there is the work of the chocolatier that can transform that chocolate again by manipulating it in different ways and adding other ingredients. We believe, like all good things in life, good chocolate shouldn't be messed with too much, as it doesn't require large amounts of sugar or cream or artificial flavourings to make it taste good. To some people chocolate is all about the sweet sugary taste and with that kind of chocolate I say stick the whole lot in your cake hole and swallow it down as fast as possible. But with the real stuff we have some tips to make the most of it.
So how do you appreciate good chocolate? If you want to take it seriously gather up a selection of chocolate tablets to compare the difference. You could find plain 70% tablets from different origins and see how their flavour profiles differ. Try and get a range from supermarket to boutique to give you a broad spectrum and start by looking at the ingredients in each one. Do you know what each ingredient is? You may find something called ‘confectioners fat’. This is a generic term for fats used in items such as chocolate or other sweet treats, and could be anything from cocoa butter to palm oil. We say, why write ‘confectioners fat’ when you could write cocoa butter and be honest about it? There is no obligation on NZ chocolate manufacturers to declare their use of palm oil. It can also appear as ‘vegetable oil’ in lists of ingredients.
Number one rule with chocolate tasting is to make sure it is not cold out of the fridge. If your chocolate is too cold you won't be able to taste the full flavour. Room temperature is ideal. Chocolate should generally be stored between 16-18 degrees away from moisture and strong odours. It is also important to make sure you have a clean palette for a serious tasting session. Eat a slice of apple or some plain crackers and drink water. Now think about the way you taste wine, and I mean good wine. Now apply the same principles to chocolate.
Look at the colour of the chocolate. Does it have a reddish tinge or is it so dark it is almost black?
Look for blemishes on the surface of the chocolate. Is the bar shiny and smooth or does it have a dull matt appearance?
If there are white marks on the chocolate this is known as blooming and is where the cocoa solids are separating from the fats within the chocolate. It's absolutely fine to still eat and certainly won't do you any harm, but it does effect the texture and mouthfeel of the chocolate (yes mouthfeel is a word!)
In the same way you smell a wine before taking a sip this adds to the tasting experience. You can even go so far as to put it up your nose if you want - read our blog post from back in July Love is the Drug. When you put the chocolate in your mouth you will be inadvertently smelling it anyway, through a process called retronasal olfaction, don't you know. When eating, the odour molecules travel from the back of the throat using the back entrance to the nose. This explains why you can’t taste properly when you have a cold for example.
Break the chocolate with your fingers and listen out for that satisfying snap sound that indicates a well tempered chocolate. Note the thickness of the bar and size of the squares and any textured pattern it has.
Now this requires some self control so as not to woof down the bar in one hit, and then move on to the next one. You should let chocolate melt on the tongue so as to let the cocoa butter coat the palette and work with the bitterness of the cocoa solids. Notice how the flavour develops over time. Is the chocolate light/heavy, bitter/sweet, powdery/smooth, creamy/sharp? Is the flavour long lasting or does it quickly vanish?
Now that we’ve covered the basics, give yourself a gold star, you can move on to the more advanced level of chocolate pairing. This is basically a good excuse to just eat all your favourite things together at the same time. You’re welcome!
Obviously I'm going to start with wine. There is infinite possibilities with this one, as you can vary from milk to dark chocolate and from dry to fruity wines and work out what works together or not. Some argue that chocolate and wine don’t complement each other at all as they are in fact too similar. Both have bitter, astringent and sour flavours and so to put the two together can be overkill. It’s all about personal preference. We've recently partnered up with a local winery and made Brick Bay chocolates using their Martello Rock red wine. This is a Bordeaux blend and works well with our 70% chocolate.
Also try beer with chocolate. This is something we recently got into after using a friend’s home brew for making chocolate ganache. So goooood! The hoppy notes of a good pale ale work well with chocolate. Again it comes down to the type of beer and the type of chocolate. We have found dark chocolate to be the best pairing with beer. Also try different types of tea and coffee.
Spices work well with chocolate. Chilli has almost become as popular with chocolate as fruit and nut! We like to use seeds and herbs with chocolate as well. Savoury flavours are great with chocolate, another favourite is sea salt. We make our Organic Sea Salt chocolate tablet using a touch of Marlborough Sea Salt to bring out the flavour of the chocolate, rather than make you feel like you’ve poured a salt shaker in your mouth. Other savoury flavours that are worth a try with chocolate are bacon, olives and cheese! Sounds like an awesome idea for nibbles at your next gathering. Chocolate is also used in savoury dishes with gamey meats such as venison to bring a richness to the meal. And there’s your main course sorted!
Tasting chocolate can be as relaxed or as serious as you want it to be. Chocolate is after all meant to be enjoyable, so have some fun with it. A tasting party is a great excuse to indulge or you may prefer to block out all distractions and treat yourself to a private tasting for one on a Friday night. No judgement! Either way send us your tasting notes when you try our chocolate as we really appreciate feedback and love putting chocolatey smiles on your faces!