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Chocolate Tasting

In January, after a months-long battle, Cadbury agreed to be taken over by Kraft. (See, for instance, here.) Last September, in the early days of the battle, I lamented the decline in quality of Cadbury products available in the US, such as Dairy Milk, owing to the fact that they are produced here not by Cadbury but by Hershey. Fortunately, the real thing is available in Canada. Some go there for drugs. We go for chocolate. But will Cadbury quality remain unchanged in the years to come? We can only hope.

Meanwhile, how does one put into words the difference in taste between real and ersatz Cadbury chocolate? To the rescue comes Clotilde, one of my favorite food bloggers, who wrote a post yesterday on How To Taste Chocolate. She had visited the Valrhona chocolate factory in Tain-l’Hermitage, France, last week and was reporting on what she had learned. I will provide an excerpt in a moment from her account of the lessons provided by Vanessa Lemoine, Valrhona’s expert on sensory analysis.

Now I need to buy a Hershey’s chocolate bar, head up to Vancouver to get a Cadbury bar (or maybe it would be simpler to drive across the lake to Redmond and stop at The British Pantry), and do a taste comparison using Lemoine’s tips. It might also be appropriate to grab some Fran’s chocolate from nearby U Village as a third entry.

Clotilde, channeling Vanessa Lemoine:

So next you’ll place a piece of chocolate in your mouth, chew briefly to accelerate the release of the flavor components, then let the chocolate melt between your tongue and the roof of your mouth, and concentrate on your sensations.

The first component that will manifest itself is acidity: if the chocolate is acidic (which is not a fault, unless it’s overwhelming), it will trigger salivation right away, and you’ll feel it on the sides of your tongue and underneath it. Note the scale of this sensation, and whether it fades quickly or stays with you throughout the tasting.

Breathe out through your nose slowly with your mouth closed, and try to describe the aromas you perceive through retro-olfaction. They will appear in stages: the first ones you’ll get are the fleeting, delicate notes of fruit or flower, followed by warmer notes of spice, roasted nuts, or toasted bread. Woody, malted or earthy notes will appear in the finish. Note the intensity of each aroma. Vanessa Lemoine noted that any smoky or smoked aroma in chocolate was, in her view, a defect.

Try to be as specific as possible in describing the aromas: if you sense something fruity, is it berries, is it stone fruit, is it citrus? Is it a fresh fruit aroma, or a jam-like one? If the chocolate is floral, is it jasmine, rose, orange blossom…? It can be a real brain challenge to put a name on the aroma you’re smelling, but you’ll get better with practice. It’s helpful to conduct tastings with other people, too, so you can share impressions.

Bitterness will make its presence known toward the end, and it will become more and more noticeable and persistent in subsequent bites. Bitterness is perceived by receptors placed at the back of the tongue in a V formation (pointing toward the throat), so be attuned to a sensation in that region of the mouth: is it strong? Does it linger?

You should also note the texture of the chocolate on your tongue: does it feel dry and brittle (not a good thing), or is it lithe and fresh, or is it creamy, so creamy as to coat your tongue and the roof of your mouth?

Categories: Food
  1. gailirving
    March 26, 2010 at 4:31 PM

    Seattlites who are serious about chocolate would know about Theo. Made right here in Fremont. You don’t have to go to Canada for good chocolate. One can go on a chocolate tour if one wanted to educate him or herself.

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