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Tags: chocolate, christmas, entrepreneurship, innovation, social media, taste September 6, 2009 Three special kinds of chocolate

Lindt Edelbitter Weihnachts Chocolade wrappingSince Christmas I've had several unexpected but inspiring chocolate experiences. As I've been very busy recently blogging have not been a very high priority, so unfortunately these stories have been a bit delayed in reaching the world. However now they are finally ready, and as the saying goes; better late than never, and I must say that this especially applies when it comes to chocolate! Also note that this is a special post and that I won't make it a habit to regularly review specific chocolates on this blog. I've made an exception in this case due to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding each of the chocolates described below, including a nice bit of innovation, impressive entrepreneurship and an excellent example of social media marketing done right.

Lindt Weihnachts-edelbitter-chocolade
Now, for the first piece it was December 2008 and I was visiting the Christmas market in the German city of Kiel. Lindt Edelbitter Weihnachts ChocoladeWhile looking around for gifts and goodies I stumbled across a stack of beautifully wrapped black and gold chocolate-bars. The bars were Christmas-flavoured 70% chocolate-bar with cinnamon and coriander from the famous Lindt & Sprüngli chocolate factory in Switzerland, so I just had to get me some of those. After bringing them safely home destined for the holidays I eventually tasted them, and I have to tell you: they were good. Really good, and very christmassy too.
The bars had a nice dark colour and were quite thin and separated into breakable pieces, each piece with a thicker bubble of chocolate filled with a rough spiced praline. The aroma of the spices were clearly noticeable through a nice earthy chocolatey taste, and the tastes were very well balanced. As Lindt bars often are the chocolate was distinctly bitter, especially in the after-taste, but not so in an overpowering way. All in all, a great find for the holidays!

Healthy chocolate; as shown on TV!
Jumping forward to February, I was attending a networking event where I got talking to a guy who was in the early stages of creating and marketing a new class of healthy chocolates inspired by the raw food movement. Their brand Sjokoladeprinsen was a competitor at Skaperen ("The Maker"), a televised entrepreneurship-competition on Norwegian TV2, and they were looking for partners. With my higher than average interest in chocolate we immediatly hit it off, and I was invited to come along to meet the team at the live semi-finals that were taking place the very next day. I naturally took this opportunity, and after they managed winning the day I was treated to one of the first production-samples of their healthy raw chocolate.
Sjokoladeprinsens hjerterTo keep it a certified raw-food the chocolate can not be heated above 42°C during production, meaning it is not roasted or shelled like regular chocolates are. As it is during the roasting that most of the chocolate taste develops fully, removing roasting from the process naturally affected the taste quite a bit. Being unroasted the chocolate had a very pure unprocessed chocolate-taste without any of the usual sub-notes you can find in most chocolate, and it was also more powdery than regular chocolate as well as nearly completely devoid of any after-taste. To keep the chocolate healthy adding sugar was of course also a no-no, so the chocolate had instead been sweetened with natural aspartame from birch, giving it a very cold and lingering sweetness. These things caused the chocolate to fall quite below my usual expectations, but it was still very much on par with most regular mass produced confectionery-chocolate, while at the same time being much healthier. All in all a very good first attempt.
Eventually the chocolate-makers went on to win the entire competition securing one million NOK in funding. With these funds a set of limited edition healthy chocolates with plain, orange and mint-flavours were released by the end of May, branded as Sjokoladeprinsens Ekte Sjokolade ("Real Chocolate by the Prince of Chocolate"). Using more professional production equipment for this release the powdery issues were gone and both colour and consistency of the pieces was very nice, but by being moulded into thick chocolate hearts the chocolates were almost too hard to bite into. As before the taste was still good despite lacking depth, making it a great munching chocolate! I'm told that regular bars of Ekte Sjokolade are in the pipeline for a fall release in Norway, with hopes to quickly go international as well, so these chocolates are definitely something to keep an eye out for.

Camaya chocolate slabs
My third and most amazing special chocolate moment occurred in March. Being a fine chocolate afficionado I follow a selection of chocolate-blogs to get new impulses, and one day the Chocolate Note had a review of some Cashew & Sesame bars by the new artisan chocolatier Camaya that looked really delicious, so I left a comment on the blog saying just that. Later that very same evening I surprisingly got a email from Anita at Camaya, saying that if I replied with my address they'd mail some samples of their chocolates for me taste at no cost. I naturally jumped at this opportunity, being very impressed by their outreaching social media strategy, and just a few days later I found a set of three Camaya chocolate slabs in the mail. Very impressive!
In addition to the above-mentioned Cashew & Sesame slab, I also received a spicy slab with Chilli and a milk chocolate slab with Mango & Cardomom. The slabs were uniquely created with pieces of fruits and nuts melted into the top, and while this made the slabs somewhat quirky to eat, the taste more than make up for it.
The chocolate gifts from CamayaStarting out with my declared favourite slab, the ingredients list on the back states that it was a 60% created with Belgian chocolate, I'm guessing couverture from Callebaut. The slightly salted cashews was glazed and covered with sesame seeds before added to the slab, a perfect match for the dark chocolate making up one of the best nutty chocolates I've ever had: salty, sweet, and just a tad bitter at the same time, combined with a rich dark chocolate taste. Yum!
Next I took on the mango-slabs, which turned out to be the hardest to eat due to the large pieces of tough dried fruits, making up 10% of the slab! The dried fruits could preferably have been juicier and a bit more flavourful, but this didn't detract much from the otherwise very good and velvety 33% milk-chocolate perfectly rounded with cardamom in both aroma and taste. Absolutely a recommended pick for milk-chocolate lovers.
Finally I went for the last of the three, a chilli chocolate. Very spicy chocolates like these are usually a special treat, and this one was no exception. A powerful chilli burn spread in my mouth almost from the instant I bit into the slab which was covered with chilli-seeds, and as the dark 60% chocolate melted the burning chilli moved further back and chocolate notes started covering the tongue. However this didn't last very long before just the hotness from the slowly waning chilli was left, overpowering any residual chocolate notes that would otherwise be left. While I must say that this slab was a bit too hot for my tastes, especially to begin with, the quality of its pure chilli burn was the most amazing I've had in a chocolate, so if you are into hot chilli chocolates I'm sure you'll eat this one up.

That unfortunately is all I had for you tonight, but stay tuned for more postings about chocolates and other topics, eventually :-)

Posted by Svein-Magnus Sørensen at 22:44

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Tags: cacao, chocolate, taste March 4, 2009 The Makings of a Taste - Fine Chocolate for Beginners (Part 2)

World's most expensive choocolate barBefore reading this you might want to have read the first part of my guide to fine chocolate for beginners. It's not strictly necessary of course, but it is a good place to start if you are new to fine chocolate..

Read it? Good. Now lets take you to the next level. As you may have guessed yourself, the taste of a chocolate-bar is not only dependent on the declared ingredients on the back, but also very much on quality differences in both the cocoa-beans themselves, and even more so by the processing they are put through. So lets get into the chocolate production process from pod to bar to give you a understanding of how it all fits together, so that finally we can explain why some chocolates are so much better than others.

First a quick recap: Chocolate production begins with harvesting ripe cacao pods which are opened and emptied to extract the seeds and pulp. This mass is then fermented for up to a week until the pulp have disappeared, leaving only the seeds which are then dried for shipment to chocolate-makers around the world. There the beans are roasted and shelled to separate out the cocoa nibs, which can then finally be milled and refined into a liquid cocoa mass, the basis of all chocolate as we know it: cocoa-liquor.
Much of this liquor is then separated into cocoa-powder and cocoa-butter for further industrial use. Cocoa-powder is commonly used as an ingredient in baking or to make hot chocolate, while cocoa-butter is amongst other things used in cosmetics and medicines. Most importantly however, some of the cocoa-butter is added back into cocoa-liquor along with sugar and other ingredients, which after another couple of days of conching, tempering and moulding finally become the fabled chocolate bars that we all love so much.

Whew, that was quick. If you couldn't follow me through all of that then have a look at how chocolate is made for additional details. Now lets dig into the details to see how all of this combines to affect the final taste of a chocolate bar.

Cacao varieties
The cacao pods that chocolate is made from grows on the stem of a tropical tree called the Theobroma cacao. These trees originated in the Orinoco and Amazon basins of Mesoamerica where they were discovered by early humans, ancestors of the Maya. Over thousands of years the Mayans and their forefathers have cultivated the cacao-trees to their liking, thereby giving rise to the variety of cacao now named Criollo. This cultivation has turned the Criollo into a very vulnerable and low yield crop mainly available from plantations in Venezuela and Colombia, but one that is also highly aromatic and with little bitterness and astringency. It is therefore currently the most sought after cacao-variety for use in fine chocolate, and according to some it is the only variety that makes the cut. Note however, that true Criollo cacao hardly exist any more, as most Criollo cacaos nowadays are actually hybridizations between multiple other varieties and thus with similarly varying properties. Also different such hybridizations often grow intermingled on the same plantations, making the business of separating the harvest near impossible without a detailed genetic analysis of each individual tree.

Cacao beans in Chuao, VenezuelaOutside the true Criollos the grouping of cacaos are even more disputed, but it is commonly talked about 3-5 main varieties. Most wild cacaos of Mesoamerica, as well as most exported cacaos grown in the rest of the world, is considered to be of the Forestaro variety, which means it is a large and diverse group with varying properties. Forasteros are generally very hardy and most provide large crops, but is due to its commonly high bitterness and astringency considered to be inferior to other varieties of cacao.

An environmental disaster on the island of Trinidad in the 18th century led to the first intentional crossing of Criollos and Forestaros there to save the plantations. This cross became known as Trinitario from its origin, with its properties being halfway between its parent types. It has become increasingly popular and is now grown on many islands in the Caribbean and the Indian ocean, as well as in Papua-New-Guinea and Cameroon. Again calling it a single variety is somewhat misleading, as Trinitarios today are hybridized from different types of Forestaro and Criollo, and therefore has varying properties as well.

In addition to the big-three there are also multiple maverick cacaos that are not usually grouped along with them as they have very different properties. The most famous of these is Ecuadors 'Nacional' variety with its floral aroma. Some more information on the different varieties of cacao and their properties can be found in the history of chocolate from Richart chocolates.

Cacao preparation: Fermentation and roasting
After the ripened cacao pods have been harvested, they are opened and the contained seeds and a white pulp called mucilage are placed in wooden-bins or earth-pits and covered with banana-leaves. There they are left to ferment for up to a week depending on the type and quality of the pods. The heat from the sun causes fermentation, which creates flavour-precursors in the seeds and reduces their natural bitterness and astringency. After fermentation the seeds are dried in the sun or in wood-powered heaters to stabilize them into proper cocoa-beans to prepare them for storage and shipment to chocolate-makers around the world, bringing us to the beginning of the true chocolate making process. It is however critical during this process that the beans are not exposed to smoke from the heaters or other sources, as this will affect the taste and quality of the beans.

Upon arrival at a chocolatiers kitchen or in a factory, the next step is roasting the cacao beans, just like what is done with coffee-beans. This allows for removal of the bean shells to bring out the cocoa nibs or bean-meat from the chocolate, but most importantly the roasting fully develops the flavour-precursors from the fermentation process into the rich variety of aromas that is the staple of fine chocolate. It is the art of perfectly controlling the processes of fermentation and roasting that separates the taste of regular chocolates from the truly exquisite ones, and both are equally important to the quality of the end product.

Finally the roasted cacao nibs are crushed and milled into a fine powder and then further refined into a liquid cocoa mass, namely chocolate liquor, the base ingredient that all manufactured chocolate is made from. As mentioned in the recap some of this liquor is then separated through hydraulic presses into cocoa powder and cocoa butter, which allows for adjustment of their relative amounts when making chocolate bars as well as for use in other products.

Chocolate manufacture: Conching and tempering
A chocolate conch in actionNow with chocolate liquor and cocoa butter at hand we're finally ready to start making real chocolate, but to do that a few more ingredients are usually needed. The reason is that cacao as mentioned earlier is very bitter, easily confirmed by tasting a 100% cacao-content chocolate bar, which I must warn you is an acquired taste. I would suggest easing into it through sampling a variety of 70% and 85% bars first. Making these requires rounding off the bitter taste of raw chocolate a bit, so in addition to adding more cocoa-butter for extra smoothness, a bit of sugar and usually some vanilla is also added. To create the smoothness we expect from our chocolate this mix is then melted and stirred for up to several days in a machine named a Conch, in a process aptly named conching. This slowly transforms the rough mix into a perfectly smooth liquid chocolate which is actually ready to eat. The only thing now remaining is solidifying the liquid it into chocolate bars, but this too is easier said than done.

Chocolate solidifies through forming multiple types of fat-crystals, each with its own particular properties and melting point. Simply cooling the chocolate liquid straight to room temperature causes uncontrolled crystallization and a variation of fat-crystals, including some that make the chocolate very crumbly and that melts at room-temperature (Type I at 17°C and Type II at 21°C). Other crystals allow for somewhat firmer chocolate, but one that still melts in your hands (Type III at 26°C and Type IV at 28°C). These can often be found in cheap mass-produced chocolate since getting rid of them is both time-consuming and exact work.

Making fine chocolate involves creating as many Type V crystals as possible, because these have a melting point of 36°C and therefore melts in your mouth while still keeping firm and glossy at room temperature, and even in your hands to a degree. To achieve this the chocolate liquid must first be cooled to exactly 27°C to allow crystals of only type IV and V to form, before it is reheated to 31°C to break up the type IV crystals, leaving only the desired type V's. This process is called tempering and must be repeated several times until as much as possible of the cocoa-butter has crystallised into type V before the chocolate can be poured into the desired moulds and cooled entirely into the chocolate bars that you get from the store.

Variations in Taste
If every part of this process; from careful harvesting through controlled fermentation and roasting, to milling, conching and painstaking tempering; is performed with quality in mind, then you will likely end up with a high quality fine chocolate with a good snap, even colouring and a smooth texture.

A finished chocolate bar by AmanoThe taste however will still vary immensely based on how all of the above processes are performed, and especially on the roasting of the beans, which becomes clearly evident by tasting similar chocolates from different manufacturers. For instance does Michel Cluizel usually create bars with a round fruity taste, while the products of Domori on the other hand often have a very burnt and raw feeling to them. The taste can even vary between bars of the same brand from a single manufacturer, especially between seasons, which is why many renown chocolatiers are not only creating origin-bars with beans from a single plantation, but also vintage-bars branded with the year of production, like these vintages from Valrhona.

The aromatic properties of cacao are said to surpass even those of wine-grapes, and certainly most other kinds of food in the world, so there are potentially hundreds of distinct aromas to be tasted even in a single bar of chocolate. Which of these aromas dominate and how they change during the tasting can vary greatly, much due to variations in any one of the steps described above, not to mention the various tastes and fillings that can be added. Therefore trying out various brands and makers, from the good to the bad, is the only way to discover and know these subtle differences for yourself. In doing so you will hopefully expand your chocolate horizons and in time become able to find your favourite styles, and perhaps even attempt to create one of your own. Based on this there is really only one simple advice to give: Eat more fine chocolate!

To learn more you can go and read the next part in my Fine Chocolate for Beginners series for some tips and pointers on makers, brands and bars to start out with!

Posted by Svein-Magnus Sørensen at 17:33 | Trackbacks (2)

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Tags: chocolate, google, maps, oslo December 4, 2008 Sjokolade i Oslo

Google Maps logoEtter å ha lest innleggene mine om fin sjokolade får nok noen lyst å utforske mer enn kun det du finner på nærbutikken. De fleste store byene i Norge har en rekke butikker med et noe mer ekslusivt utvalg i sjokoladehyllene, men det er ikke alltid så lett å finne ut hvilke dette er eller hvor dem ligger. I Bergen har man for eksempel Moliere, mens i Trondheim er Sjokoladebutikken ved Nova Kino verdt å merke seg. Det er nok også en andre butikker som fører god sjokolade i disse byene, men jeg har dessverre ikke noen komplett oversikt over disse, men det finnes fortsatt håp hos den interaktive websiden ChocoMap. Her kan man søke opp sjokoladebutikker i hele verden, og selvfølgelig registrere de man selv kjenner til. Litt synd er det derfor at ChocoMap ikke har registert så mange sjokoladebutikker i Norge, og per dags dato ingen i Oslo (!).

Akkurat det siste er litt merkelig, for etterhvert som jeg har blitt godt kjent med sjokolademarkedet i Oslo har jeg funnet en rekke gode butikker her, fler enn i de fleste andre Norske byer. Dette illustreres godt ved denne fristende artikkelserien hos Oslopuls om de mange sjokoladebutikkene som finnes i byen. Jeg går derfor med planer om å registrere disse på ChocoMap når jeg får tid, men travel som jeg er blir det nok ikke med det første. Enn så lenge får jeg derfor nøye meg med å anbefale mitt eget kart hos Google Maps som heter "Sjokolade i Oslo". Dette kartet har en oversikt over så godt som alle forretninger og kafeer i byen som jeg vet at fører god sjokolade, så jeg håper dette kan være en super ressurs for de som befinner seg i Oslo og lurer på hvor de kan kjøpe seg noe ekstra godt. Merk dog at dette ikke er noe jeg har brukt mye tid på, så det er helt sikkert både butikker som mangler og andre feil på kartet. Jeg blir derfor veldig glad hvis du sier ifra til meg om de feilene du finner, eller best av alt om du har lyst å hjelpe til med å vedlikeholde kartet!

Samtidig vil jeg også nevne et annet kart jeg har laget: "Aktiviteter rundt Bygdøy & Skøyen" som er en oversikt over alle matbutikker, restauranter og andre steder som kan være interessante for beboere langs Karenslyst Allè og andre som ofte befinner seg i dette området. Håper dette også kan være til nytte for noen :-)

Posted by Svein-Magnus Sørensen at 18:47 | Comments (1)

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Tags: chocolate, storage, wrapping November 16, 2008 Fine chocolate for beginners (Part 1)

ChocolateSo you just read my last entry on how I found my way into the world of fine chocolate. Maybe you got a little bit inspired, and now you want to try out some fine chocolate for yourself but you don't really know where to start. Traveling to Belgium just to sample chocolates might be tempting, but due to cost or other concerns I expect that most people would like to start off a little closer to home, like at for instance their local grocery-store or a nearby deli. Picking out the right chocolates in such locations can be a challenge however, so here I'll provide a few pointers on how to put quality into your chocolate enjoyment.

First things first: The wrapping. This is usually the only thing you have to go on when picking out chocolates at a regular store, so its naturally one of the things you must pay close attention to. It is well known that the branding and presentation of foods can have a great deal of influence on your perception of taste. This means that chocolates from a brand that is exquisitely wrapped or advertised to be a product of quality and luxury will often be a good buy, if only because the presentation will make you think it tastes better than the other brands.
Also you will rarely find high-quality products in a lousy packaging, so by going for the pretty boxes you have at least reduced the chance of making a bad choice. Note however that many manufacturers tend to wrap poor products in quality packaging to sell more or to fetch a better price, so only going by the quality of packaging is far from a sure thing.

This is why the next step is to read through the ingredients list for the chocolate. One of the first things you will notice there is the minimum cocoa-content of the chocolate. For milk-chocolates this is usually between 30-50%, while dark chocolate commonly land in the 50-85% range. It is generally agreed that the best dark chocolates has a cocoa-content of about 70%, something that marketers have eagerly caught on to. While a high cocoa-content can be perceived as a good thing as it leaves less room for additives, it says nothing of the quality of the chocolate. The cocoa-content should therefore not sway your decision one way or the other, unlike much of the rest of the ingredients list.
In general, a fine chocolate should only contain these ingredients:

  • Sugar (Preferably raw sugar)
  • Cocoa liquor / cocoa solids (Not used in white chocolate)
  • Cocoa butter (Avoid if partially replaced with vegetable fat!)
  • Soy-lecithin (Optional but common emulsifier. Used to give a smoother mouth feel.)
  • Vanilla (Optional but common flavoring. Avoid if replaced with artificial vanillin)
  • Milk fat & solids (Optional: Should only be found in milk-chocolate)
  • Natural flavorings (Optional: For instance fruits, berries, nuts, salt or spices)
  • Fillings (Optional: Anything from liquors and to nuts and berries )
You should bring this list to the store for comparisons, and remember that if a chocolate contains anything not mentioned here it is usually bad and something you might want to avoid. The most common flaws you will encounter in the ingredients list of mass-produced chocolate are these:
  • Vanillin instead of vanilla or other artificial flavourings (Artificial flavourings give a metallic after-taste)
  • Vegetable fat replacing some or all of the cocoa butter (Very unhealthy!)
  • Artificial sweeteners instead of sugar (Unhealthy and has a different taste and texture)
These things are usually put in chocolate to reduce production costs, but they also reduce the quality and taste of chocolate and should therefore be avoided.

Now on to the final thing you are in a position to consider about your chocolate, namely the storage conditions. They are often the cause of the gray-white coating that you have probably come across on your chocolates from time to time. Most often this is caused by too warm storage making the fat in the cocoa butter dissolve, or by humid storage that dissolves the sugar crystals in the chocolate. Both effects leaves the dissolved fat or sugar as gray-white deposits on the surface of the chocolate. This is known as 'bloom'. Bloom is not dangerous, and does not usually affect the taste or texture of the chocolate much, but it does make the chocolate look less appetizing. To avoid this chocolate is therefore best stored in a cool semi-dry environment, preferably at around 12-16°C and at less than 50% humidity. Also note that the cocoa-butter in the chocolate readily absorb strong flavours from nearby food, especially cheese and spices, so the distance to such items is an important consideration. If the conditions in the shelf-area of the store are outside these values, either due to the outdoor climate or because of bad positioning, you might want to find another store to get your chocolate from. Of course in many places it might be difficult to avoid such high temperatures during the summertime, so as always it is a matter of consideration.

While we are on the topic of storage I should also mention that the usual shelf-life of dark chocolate is about 12-18 months at the most, and for white and milk chocolate it is only around 6 months due to the milk-contents. Both types can be kept in a freezer for an additional 6-12 months, but then beware of the moisture when thawing! If a chocolate is stored any longer than mentioned above it will generally start to bloom regardless of conditions, and also the cocoa-butter might be getting rancid and start affecting the taste, but that all depends on both the quality of the chocolate and the storage conditions.

Then over to the awaited tasting part. You should always bring the chocolate out of storage early and leave it to temperate until it reaches about 22°C, or common room temperature. This will give you the most taste sensations from the chocolate as it will more readily melt in your mouth and release stronger flavours. Some people claim to prefer eating refrigerated chocolate due to its increased hardness and different mouth feel. This is usually caused by much common chocolate being badly tempered or containing much milk and vegetable fats, which allows the chocolate to readily melt at room temperature. Quality fine chocolate on the other hand is usually plenty hard even at room temperature, and only melts at 34°C.

Finally I would just like you to remember that taste is a very subjective matter. Purist connoisseurs even argue whether lecithin and vanilla is acceptable in fine chocolate, and some claim that 100% cocoa-content chocolate is very tasty (I disagree). The best advice I can give is therefore to trust your own tastes to tell you what is really good. If you enjoy your bloomed chocolate with artificial flavourings and vegetable fat, then by all means indulge yourself! It might not be "fine chocolate", but it can still be heavenly good from time to time.

And that concludes Part 1 of this basic introduction to fine chocolate. Continue to Part 2 for more about different cocoa-beans, production methods, brands and fillings and how those affect the taste, as well as information on where to buy true quality chocolate.

Posted by Svein-Magnus Sørensen at 12:29 | Trackbacks (2)

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Tags: belgium, brussels, chocolate November 13, 2008 Discovering fine chocolate

neuhaus_venezuela.jpgEver since childhood I have been especially fond of the filling round taste of dark chocolate, something that may have originated from me habitually sneaking bits of Mom's baking-chocolate from the kitchen-drawer, a preference that stayed with me ever since. Naturally I greatly enjoyed most other kinds of Norwegian chocolate too, and while growing up I gradually expanded my chocolate horizons. Early in my travels I discovered Swiss Toblerone, and later I randomly came across the amazing Cote d'Or and Guylian imports from Belgium. With my studies abroad I found myself delighted by Australian Cadbury and American Ghirardelli, but I always treasured the one special kind of Freia baking-chocolate called "Selskapssjokolade" from my childhood far above all others.

This all changed in 2006 when I started traveling regularly to Brussels to visit my girlfriend living there. Flying down so often allowed me to thoroughly taste my way through all of the amazing chocolate-shops we came across on our travels around Belgium, and I got to try an amazing range of delicious pralines the like of which I could never have imagined, as well as the wide selection of Cote d'Or, Galler, Jacques and a host of other brands available in the grocery stores. But one day I came across something different, namely a set of three country-labeled chocolate bars in the display-window of a Neuhaus-shop. The label "Occumare Venezuela" especially piqued my interest, so I simply had to try one...

And how did it taste? Well as you may have guessed it turned out to be amazing! It was hands down the best chocolate I had ever tasted, so on my next trip to Brussels I made it my main priority to buy more of it, and also to sample the other two bars labeled "Sao Tomé" and "West Africa". Those too ended up surprising me, but not in the amazing way that the Occumare did; The West Africa bar tasted very much like most other regular chocolate to me, and while the Sao Tomé bar was somewhat better it too felt dry and boring in comparison. I couldn't help but wonder why the Venezuelan bar tasted so much better than the other two in the series, and also whether the special "Occumare"-label found only on that bar had something to do with it. I immediately started Googling for answers.

Now, I'm not going to turn this into some mystery novel about Chocolate so I'll just give you the simple facts. After days and even weeks of spending my free time reading about chocolate on Wikipedia and a host of other sites, I started getting the hang of it, and it turns out that cacao isn't just cacao after all. It consists of a myriad of different varieties roughly divided into three main groups, of which the South-American version called Criollo is highly praised for its aromatic properties and the one most often used to make quality chocolate. This type of cacao combined with quality preparation is what made the Venezuelan bar from Neuhaus so amazing. At that time it was actually considered to be one of the best bars available so it turns out that me finding this particular bar was a stroke of luck, as it was its special combination of an amazing taste and the branding mystery that led me to begin my search to learn about and discover the world of fine chocolate.

And what of the "Occumare"-label you ask?
It turned out to be the name of a green valley leading to a small seaside municipality on the Venezuelan coast, a place where the cacao-harvest has been a staple of life since the Spaniards created their first plantations there in the 1650's. It has since been one of the most famous sources of cacao used to create quality chocolate, and even more so in later years after origin-bars stating their source of cacao has become popular among artisan chocolatiers.

Now if you are curious to learn how you yourself can identify fine chocolate in a store, I will be writing a follow-up to this post in a few days, so read up on chocolate history in the meantime and stay tuned!

Update: And why was it notable that Freia Selskapssjokolade was my favourite as a child you may wonder. Well it turns out that up until the new millennium and the booming interest in fine chocolate that followed, that particular brand was one of the purest and most high quality semi-dark chocolates available on the Norwegian market. This means that the preference for dark chocolate that led me to chocolate connoisseurship in Belgium was likely caused by me being randomly exposed to one of the only somewhat fine dark chocolate-bars available when I was a child! That certainly is a strange twist of fate :-)

Posted by Svein-Magnus Sørensen at 19:32 | Trackbacks (1) | Comments (2)

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