Gourmet Chocolate and Cacao
Why is Gourmet So Expensive?
While some people claim that chocolate is an aphrodisiac, for me it has always been about the plain and simple need for something sweet and delicious. After writing a couple of hubs centered around (or specifically about) saffron, I began to wonder about chocolate and spices. Up until recently, I never thought that I had better options, and the more I researched, the more I noticed that top-class chocolate, like any food or beverage, is quite expensive.
I understand the obvious reasons of why elite chocolate costs more—it’s not mass manufactured and the ingredients are harder to find and cultivate. What I didn’t know is that chocolate has become so revered as to join the ranks of wine with the use of the French term cru.
Cru is a French word usually used when describing wine, but with chocolate it refers to the terroir or physical environment where a type of cacao is grown. Each cru name reflects either a single varietal of cacao and/or areas that have specific cacao plants.
A cru name will often represent the country and province where certain cacao plants can be found; for example, Manjari from Madagascar.
Through the use of smell and taste, true experts can determine not only what kind of bean(s) a chocolate bar is made from, but also which plantation they come from.
There are countless chocolate houses all over the world, distinguished by the fact that they purchase raw cacao beans, roast them, and process them into chocolate. This can be chocolate bars for consumer consumption (you and me) and pricey blocks of couverture (French for coating or covering) chocolate from which tempering, truffles, pastries, bonbons and coated items such as chocolate-covered strawberries emerge.
Why Is Couverture More Expensive?
1. It is made with better beans
2. The beans are ground to a finer particle size
3. It has a higher cocoa butter content than most other chocolate bars
There exist thousands of chocolatiers all over the world, but very few makers of couverture, just about 50 according to thenibble.com. It takes a lot of time and effort to find, roast and process the best beans, into blocks that will later be sold to chocolatiers. While I love the idea of gourmet chocolate, unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford a box of chocolates with a price tag of $180.
However, by cutting out a few cups of coffee a week (yes, I’m dedicated to my chocolate education!), I think I’ve found a way to at least sample (and slowly, very slowly, nibble) some exotic, spicy and oftentimes kooky chocolates.
My First Gourmet Chocolate
I admit that I stood for much too long in front of the glass display, hypnotized by the mocha, café and dark colored jewels that were primped and painted and sprinkled with all sorts of salts, spices and sugars.
My eye landed on the lavender truffles with real lavender seeds, small and violet-hued, nestled atop the mixed chocolate truffles. Normally, lavender is added to salads or herbal teas, well known for its calming and rejuvenating effects. I was curious. At $1.99 a pop, I officially spent more money than I ever have in my entire life on one piece of chocolate the size of a Ping-Pong ball.
Treating my chocolate as I have seen others treat wine, I took a big sniff. It had an earthy scent, but no prominent aroma of lavender. I took a tiny bite and broke into the shell, which was made of Callebaut Chocolate (semisweet, 52.9% cacao) and the first flavor that surfaced was indeed lavender. A relative of mint, the lavender plant has violet flowers and green or chalk-colored leaves, both of which lend a slight bitter taste.
I took another bite; again there was a hint of lavender, but just at the beginning, then it vanished, overtaken more by the filling, a mixture of coconut nectar, agave and coconut powder. Overall, the truffle was light and fresh; the filling had a nice creamy texture contrasting that of the artisanal shell. To my surprise, the lavender was understated—in a good way—and the whole piece was decadent enough to save half of it for nighttime.
A Much Needed Pick-Me-Up
As it turns out, I needed that lavender truffle after dinner. One excuse for eating chocolate that I didn’t mention earlier is for when one receives disappointing news. While chocolate cannot cure or erase any of my problems, it at least reminds me that sometimes you need the bitter to appreciate the sweet, the marriage of vinegar and oil, wasabi and ginger, ancho chile and caramel. While I may have created a monster, embarking on a search for the most lovingly created, artisanal, and inspiring flavors in bite-size chocolate morsels, there's certainly no turning back now...
Read my recent "Hub of the Day" to learn all about organic chocolate!:
What Chocolate Combinations Have Delighted You?
Please share with me any and all suggestions you have for which chocolates (from the delectable to the just plain weird) to try next!
Just keep in mind that I'm a recent grad and a writer...no $180 chocolate boxes for me!