Earlier this week I attended my first seminar with London Gastronomy Seminars on that lovely product of bitterness and sweetness enjoyed by so many: chocolate.
Chocolate, an object of desire for many and perhaps fetishised heavily particularly around holidays, as the recent catalogue for Hotel Chocolat demonstrates so well, is amazingly ubiquitous but still rather mysterious because no one seems to be really informed as far as who makes it, how it’s made and what it really is comprised of. As people become more and more curious about the provenance of their pork, their bananas or their bottle of wine, so to are they beginning to consider the importance of where their chocolate comes from, how it’s made, and whether or not the people involved in the production of chocolate are getting a fair wage.
The seminar featured three speakers who had a lot to say about different aspects of chocolate. Martin Christy of Seventy% led us through a number of exercises in how to taste chocolate. His main message was to enjoy chocolate slowly, and through simple comparisons and directions to an audience given pieces of chocolate to eat, he showed quite effectively how we eat chocolate is paramount in our enjoyment. I was selected as one of the guinea pigs to help demonstrate flavour notes that would have been otherwise lost. As I let a piece of chocolate melt slowly in my mouth, I was instructed to say what flavour notes I was picking up to Martin, who was writing them all down.
Me: “It tastes really malty… like, like a dark stout or porter.”
Martin: *pauses* “Okay, well, that’s a new one.”
Leave it to me to bring up beer.
But, as someone who in one of my jobs discusses the ‘chocolate notes’ in a pint of beer, and has had quite a few different chocolate stouts in my day (the Heartless Chocolate Stout from Red Willow Brewery is a current love), it would be natural for me to say “dark ale” as a tasting note for chocolate. It just goes to show I drink good beer.
Anyway, back to chocolate. In addition to the excellent point of ‘slow chocolate’ Martin Christy brought up, we also learnt quite a good deal about where chocolate comes from by chocolatier Raffaella Baruzzo of Baruzzo. Admittedly, it was a heavy amount of information, but I thought it was quite interesting to learn about the four main types of cocoa trees, what a cocoa plantation is like, and the delicate processes of fermentation, drying and roasting involved and how that affects the finished product. Raffaella could easily have her own seminar on the journey of chocolate from bean to bar, or to truffle.
Paul A. Young, whose chocolates I’ve seen in his Islington shop, talked about his development into a chocolatier, as well as the ingredients he uses, particularly the unexpected ingredients one doesn’t normally associate with chocolate. To illustrate that point, boxes of his chocolates were passed around featuring his Roquefort, walnut and honey truffles, his cigar tobacco and caramel truffles, and his Marmite truffles. Personally, I enjoyed the former two (particularly the tobacco truffle) but winced at eating the Marmite truffle. Raffaella, in her talk, brought up how cultural the elements of taste are, and how tastes can differ between cultures and nations and groups. For me, the Marmite truffle was overpowering, but I didn’t grow up on Marmite. Upon speaking with someone after the seminar who did grow up eating Marmite, the truffle was too subtle for his tastes.
Because Raffaella’s lovely talk on chocolate sadly overran, at the end of the seminar we got up and took some of her chocolates and her card. We crowded up to swipe some of these thin slabs of pretty chocolates and filed out of the room. I paused in the hallway to read what Baruzzo chocolates I had in my hands. The rosemary one intrigued me the most, and I took a bite.
And there, in the halls of Senate House, was this explosion of honest flavour that could only be described as orgasmic.
It may possibly be the best chocolate experience I’ve ever had.
The flavours of the chocolate and the rosemary melted over my mouth, causing such a rush that gave me a slight shudder and caused the top of my head to prickle. I had to lean against the wall as my mind struggled to process how insanely good this beguiling piece of chocolate was. My eyes grew wide with excitement over the magic of it all.
Of course I had to hang around a bit to try and swipe another piece of this delicious slab of ecstasy, but I was in good company of other vultures who preferred the orange blossom chocolate over my newly beloved rosemary.
So yes, for ten pounds I had quite an adventure of the senses. Considering the retail prices of Paul A. Young’s and Baruzzo’s fine chocolate creations, I more than got my money’s worth, and then some, for I’ve fallen unashamedly in love with a piece of chocolate.