Thursday, January 20, 2011

chocolate and wine

review of:

Chocolate unwrapped, by Sarah Jane Evans
Pavilion, Oct. 2010

As someone who likes to match up red wine (Cotes du Rhone) with dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids or more) I was intrigued to see that the wine critic of BBC Good Food magazine has published a book about chocolate. I should warn you that the word “chocolate” is used in the narrow sense here – if you like your “dairy milk” bars containing vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter, you’ve probably dialled the wrong number.

The book opens with a 50-page introduction into the history and production of chocolate, complete with a how-to guide to tasting. This is followed by an alphabetical compendium of some 80 brands of chocolate from around the world, from Akesson’s to Zotter. Each gets two pages, and from each brand one bar, 70% or nearest offer, is marked up with flavour notes where the author’s main job as a wine critic shines through.

The first part is well written and contains lots of interesting facts, both from food science and history. Chocolate feels smooth, for instance, only if the particle size is 30 micrometres or less. I also learned that more than half the world production of cocoa beans comes from just two countries, namely Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. And that the UK insisted on EU rules permitting up to 5% vegetable fat in “chocolate.” Remember to read the list of ingredients before you buy any. The good news, though, is that the appreciation of real chocolate, made from fairly traded ingredients of well-defined origin, seems to be a growing trend even in Cadbury-infested places like the UK.

The list of chocolate brands is also surprisingly readable, thanks in part to the interesting mix of people who at some point of their life decide that their vocation is to produce chocolate. (Having read the first part of the book describing the difficulties involved, you know that they have to be a bit mad to choose this as a career!) While there are of course those who have inherited a family business or come from a background of patisserie or other fine food, there is the odd scientist, lawyer, and management consultant sprinkled in who discovers in mid-life that the quest for the perfect chocolate bar might be more satisfying than whatever they were doing in their previous career.

On top of that, the book is mouthwateringly illustrated with colour photos of lots of chocolate bars, details of the production process, and the plants. And it is beautifully produced, inside and out. Considering this, the book is very good value. Quite a few of the chocolates introduced here will probably cost more per weight.

PS I’ve bought Divine for a while, which is included in the list, but my current, very affordable favourite is the cooperative’s own brand “truly irresistible Fairtrade dark chocolate” with 85% cocoa solids, which sadly isn’t included in the list.

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