I’m not deluded enough to think I’m qualified to talk about much of anything with any great degree of expertise. There’s lots I don’t know and lots more that I’ll never learn. I had thought though that I was better up on my chocolate.
The great Roman philosopher, Seneca, is credited with the insight: When we teach, we learn. For a few years now, I’ve been giving a semi-regular communications workshop here in Budapest. We use presentations as a medium through which to apply what’s been learned. I get to hear all sorts of stuff ranging from high-tech, mind-boggling concepts that I might vaguely understand after I’ve heard the presentation three times, to having a hedgehog as a pet. Fascinating. Mostly.
This time round, I learned a lot about a subject I had thought I was pretty familiar with. Chocolate. God knows I eat enough of it to be on more than first-name terms. But I didn’t even have the complete vocabulary needed to talk about it with any semblance of expertise.
First off, a chocolatier is not the chocolate equivalent of a sommelier. Chocolatiers make and sell chocolate. Sommeliers know their wines. An expert in chocolate is simply a chocolate expert. Duh.
These experts, when examining the product, use all five senses. I had figured on taste and perhaps smell, but not all five. And now, thanks to ZZs, I know more. And am not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, though, and I might well be chasing him down for more than his homework, if this new-found interest he’s awakened starts to pile on the pounds.
First up, sight. The chocolate has to look good. It has to be shiny and even, not dull and splodgey. I’ve seen that dull, grey-white stuff that occasionally covers chocolate that might have escaped my midnight foraging sprees, but I never knew that it was called ‘bloom’. It could be sugar bloom, or fat bloom, but whatever it is, it’s never been bad enough for me not to eat the stuff. At least now I know what I’m eating. Perhaps my chocolate afterglow might even be described as ‘blooming’.
Next up is touch. How does the chocolate feel? In all honesty, I’ve never stopped long enough to ask that question but I can see how it might be important to the experts. I can’t say I’ll remember to check next time, either.
Now, the sound. When you break off a piece, the louder the ‘snap’, the higher the cocoa content. Who knew that? It’s one way to check whether the marketers are labelling the products correctly. And I’d be certainly up for a field survey. Admittedly, at some base level, I may well have recognised that Milka chocolate isn’t as loud as Lindt but it never bothered me enough to wonder why. And, of course, you’re going for a clean, straight edge – a little like broken glass.
Next, it’s the smell. And yes, this I can appreciate. I love the smell of dark chocolate. Or dark chocolate laced with orange. Or mint chocolate. Or dark chocolate laced with mind. Generally, I love the smell of chocolate – all chocolate – as long as it’s cold. Hot chocolate makes me nauseous. It could be the milk I’m reacting too, as hot milk does the same; I prefer my chocolate smelling cold.
And finally the taste. Good quality chocolate should melt on your tongue and leave an aftertaste. Not the ‘suck it out of your teeth’ aftertaste you might get from the chocolate chips in cookies, but a proper palate-ish aftertaste. This I knew. Sort of. On some base level.
Now that I’ve learned so much more about a subject I already thought I knew quite well, I’m left wondering whether my chocolate experience will change. Will I be more discerning in what I buy? Or will the cravings win out? Let’s see.
And yes, I nicked his photos. But I asked permission. I think.