Like dedicated oenophiles, chocolate lovers are making an elite sport of the latest ingredient to go haute cuisine, with chocolate tastings and food pairings creating a league of passionate experts.
Chocoholics are becoming increasingly sophisticated, says chocolatier Paul Young, owner of eponymously named chocolate boutiques in London and an award-winning author.
Like the complexities of wine, the subtle flavors of chocolate are being appreciated on a whole new level. Consumers are asking more questions about the provenance of the beans, who’s growing them, how they’re being roasted, and whether or not they’re organic or Fair Trade, Young said.
“Globally, a lot of people are becoming micro-experts in chocolate and are looking for authenticity,” he said in an interview with Relaxnews.
It’s part of what he’ll be discussing at the Speciality Chocolate Fair this weekend, part of the Speciality and Fine Foods Fair in London, the gathering place for some of the best artisan and gourmet producers in the UK.
Young, whose book Adventures in Chocolate was named the Best Chocolate Book in the World by the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, said he’s seeing a surge of interest in understanding the nuances and mysteries of cocoa. It’s also leading to more adventurous palates and a growing breed of bold chocolatiers who are experimenting with cacao as a vehicle for exciting new flavor pairings. Like patisseries and restaurants, chocolates are also being made fresh with local, seasonal ingredients
Young’s ‘Smoky’ chocolates, for example, are part of his fall and winter range and are spiked with a 16-year-old Lagavulin whiskey, black Cavendish Al Fakher tobacco, a Chinese Lapsang Souchon tea, cinnamon leaf and black cardamom. The result is a smoky, deep, earthy warm ‘autumnal’ bonbon that summons the smells of a log fire under a blanket of cocoa.
His Roquefort, walnut and celery chocolate also challenges palates to open up their senses and suspend preconceived notions. Aptly named ‘The Cheeseboard’ for conjuring up all the aromas and tastes found on a cheese platter, Young said that, like a fine wine, sometimes it’s not just about the taste alone.
“It’s experiential. It’s about how it can provoke thought, and be sentimental.”
Other flavors for fall include wasabi, coriander and apple and Worcester sauce.
The place of origin also makes a huge difference when it comes to taste profiles. Because Ecuadorian chocolate is grown under banana and mango trees, chocolate from that country takes on the same notes. Madagascan chocolate, meanwhile, is highly acidic and pairs well with red fruit – important factors when developing a new flavor pairing.
Meanwhile, flavors that started out in the fringe world have become commonplace in mainstream chocolate shops. British brand Thorntons, for instance, has a chili spiked flavor, and also sells an orange cardamom range. The chocolate brand will also make a presentation on “The Best of British Flavors” at the fair this weekend.