The more often I go to Food Shows, the more select I become. In the early years I would eat myself silly. Sure, I would love a hand full of jelly beans with that Polish Sausage Sandwich. And could I have an espresso to wash it all down with?
After years of acid indigestion which seemed to linger for weeks after the show I knew that I needed a different strategy. So, one year I decided to limit myself to the International Aisles. This showed a lot of promise. The olive oils alone could take a half a day to taste. The Italians loved pouring wine. And the cheeses from the British Isles! I ate so much Neal’s Yard cheddar one year that I swear my heart started skipping beats. But this was still too much. It would be one thing if I was the food buyer for a gourmet food shop and was trying to stock the shelves. I was just an inquisitive chef roaming the aisles for inspiration.
The narrowing of my tasting focus happened naturally the year that I started The Art of Tasting Chocolate website. I tried all the chocolate confections. ALL OF THEM. It took two days. But at least they were all in the chocolate family. There are a lot of confections that should be avoided at all costs. However, I couldn’t report on what I thought was the best unless I tried them all, right? Down one aisle. Up another. Masterpieces of construction from Spanish confectioners were sampled beside hand dipped artisan chocolates from Oregon. Chocolate with chilies. Chocolate with cheese. Chocolate with smoked pork products. I traded acid indigestion for a near diabetic coma.
So with that criteria, I went a’tasting. And this is what I found. I tasted only pure chocolate. These are my favorites in no particular order:
MICHEL CLUIZEL : Oh, those French! So elegant. So refined. A guided tasting of five ‘1ers Crus de Plantations’ plain chocolates took less than ten minutes yet transformed me into a Cluizel groupie. This was one of the best guided tastings I have ever experienced. Starting with Los Ancones – Santo Domingo – 67% cacao, we worked our way around a tasting map that took us to Venezuela, Madagascar, New Guinea and Sao Tome.
AMANO ARTISAN CHOCOLATE : Art Pollard always continues to amaze. This year he added a fourth chocolate bar to his repetoire. JEMBRANA, 70% minimum cacao, is produced from beans that Art sourced from the Regency of Jembrana, on the southwest coast of the Indonesian island of Bali. This is a gentle bar of chocolate. Nice fruitiness with a hint of nuts and a background of vanilla that rounds out the flavors.
TAZA CHOCOLATE : This was the ‘wow’ moment for me at the show. Stone ground chocolate so the texture is rough, not smooth like chocolate that has been conched. Only four ingredients: cacao beans, cane sugar, cocoa butter and whole vanilla beans. When I tasted the 80% Dark Stone Ground Organic Chocolate Bar I could taste cherries. Added? No. I was just tasting the terroir of the beans.
If all this talk of chocolate has you drooling then you won’t want to miss the SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL CHOCOLATE SALON which is happening this Saturday, March 21. This year it is being held in a larger venue than in past years. More room to roam around in a chocolate coma. I will be there as a member of the tasting panel. See you there!