Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Book Review - The Chocolate Connoisseur

Having read about her in Mort Rosenblum's book Chocolate, and having seen her in the documentary Chocolate Confidential on TV, I was intrigued by the person described as having the finest palate for chocolate, Chloe Doutre-Roussel, and whether her wide experience could be translated well into book form. Unlike Rosenblum's book, which deals with the history and stories behind chocolate, this book deals with the way to become more knowledgeable about chocolate, thus raising your ability to distinguish between good and bad chocolate, and thus be able to enjoy chocolate more. To become, as the title suggests, a Connoisseur of Chocolate.

The book opens with a chapter on Chloe's passion for chocolate, acquired and cultivated from a young age, and what she does to maintain that passion. This is followed by a chapter on the history of chocolate, past and present, where we learn such interesting facts, that the top 10 chocolate bars sold, do not contain more than 20% chocolate, in a thin layer (Mars and Twix and Snickers the top 3); what good chocolate is - high quality ingredients, good production methods, and good level of cocoa content, and who you possibly could obtain it from (Amedei, Bonnat, Chocovic, Michel Cluizel, El Rey, Felchlin, Guittard, Pralus, Scharffen Berger or Valrhona are just some of the names to look for); and what kind of chocolate is favoured in each country. The next chapter gives detailed instructions on how to build your Chocolate Profile, by examining the kinds of chocolate you eat now (so that you can find other better chocolate similar to it); determining how much and when you eat chocolate, what it does for you; and how to eat chocolate and make notes about each new chocolate to build your own chocolate database, where to find it or clubs to join. This is followed by a detailed journey of cacao, from the trees where it grows to the harvested beans, to the fermented, dried and roasted cocoa, to making it into cocoa liquor, conching (which makes it smooth), tempering (heating and cooling rapidly, to crystallize the cocoa butter into a stable form), and finally to moulding. The next chapter details how one can taste chocolate, similar to how one tastes wine, how to use all of your senses to experience chocolate (look at it; touch it to see how it feels; hear how it breaks; smell it; and finally taste it), how to recognize the various and sometimes subtle flavours in different cacao beans, not only sour, sweet, bitter, acid or salty, but flavours in categories like spicy or fruity or flowery, and how you can change your own tastes, to develop your own chocolate palate. This is followed by a short chapter on sharing chocolate, through parties and games, and by cooking or baking with chocolate. Next is a chapter on how to distinguish the best of chocolate, what to look for, how to read the ingredient listings to determine how good a bar it is, and whether organic is worth it or even tasty. The seventh chapter deals with types of chocolates, bars and bonbons, what goes into these and what is good, and not so good. If you ever wondered whether chocolate is good for you, what effect it might have on your health, the next chapter deals on this subject, where we find out about chocolate and the heart, chocolate and obesity, chocolate and acne, chocolate as an aphrodisiac, chocolate and caffeine, and the myths and truths behind these. The second to last chapter deals with becoming a connoisseur, what it entails, what Chloe does in order to fulfill her passion. The last chapter deals with the future of chocolate, how good quality chocolate is finding its way to the consumer because they are beginning to demand it.

Did this help me become a Chocolate Connoisseur? I can say that I had already begun travelling down that particular path already, this just coalesced some of the ideas that I had been forming from information I had read here and there, and chocolate I had found and tasted and liked, or disliked. The journey continues.

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