Since Christmas I've had several unexpected but inspiring chocolate experiences. As I've been very busy recently blogging have not been a very high priority, so unfortunately these stories have been a bit delayed in reaching the world. However now they are finally ready, and as the saying goes; better late than never, and I must say that this especially applies when it comes to chocolate! Also note that this is a special post and that I won't make it a habit to regularly review specific chocolates on this blog. I've made an exception in this case due to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding each of the chocolates described below, including a nice bit of innovation, impressive entrepreneurship and an excellent example of social media marketing done right.
Entries in category: Chocolate
Before reading this you might want to have read the first part of my guide to fine chocolate for beginners. It's not strictly necessary of course, but it is a good place to start if you are new to fine chocolate..
Read it? Good. Now lets take you to the next level. As you may have guessed yourself, the taste of a chocolate-bar is not only dependent on the declared ingredients on the back, but also very much on quality differences in both the cocoa-beans themselves, and even more so by the processing they are put through. So lets get into the chocolate production process from pod to bar to give you a understanding of how it all fits together, so that finally we can explain why some chocolates are so much better than others.
First a quick recap: Chocolate production begins with harvesting ripe cacao pods which are opened and emptied to extract the seeds and pulp. This mass is then fermented for up to a week until the pulp have disappeared, leaving only the seeds which are then dried for shipment to chocolate-makers around the world. There the beans are roasted and shelled to separate out the cocoa nibs, which can then finally be milled and refined into a liquid cocoa mass, the basis of all chocolate as we know it: cocoa-liquor.
Much of this liquor is then separated into cocoa-powder and cocoa-butter for further industrial use. Cocoa-powder is commonly used as an ingredient in baking or to make hot chocolate, while cocoa-butter is amongst other things used in cosmetics and medicines. Most importantly however, some of the cocoa-butter is added back into cocoa-liquor along with sugar and other ingredients, which after another couple of days of conching, tempering and moulding finally become the fabled chocolate bars that we all love so much.
Whew, that was quick. If you couldn't follow me through all of that then have a look at how chocolate is made for additional details. Now lets dig into the details to see how all of this combines to affect the final taste of a chocolate bar.
Etter å ha lest innleggene mine om fin sjokolade får nok noen lyst å utforske mer enn kun det du finner på nærbutikken. De fleste store byene i Norge har en rekke butikker med et noe mer ekslusivt utvalg i sjokoladehyllene, men det er ikke alltid så lett å finne ut hvilke dette er eller hvor dem ligger. I Bergen har man for eksempel Moliere og Konfektgalleriet, mens i Trondheim er Sjokoladebutikken ved Nova Kino verdt å merke seg. Det er nok også en andre butikker som fører god sjokolade i disse byene, men jeg har dessverre ikke noen komplett oversikt over disse, men det finnes fortsatt håp hos den interaktive websiden ChocoMap. Her kan man søke opp sjokoladebutikker i hele verden, og selvfølgelig registrere de man selv kjenner til. Litt synd er det derfor at ChocoMap ikke har registert så mange sjokoladebutikker i Norge, og per dags dato ingen i Oslo (!).
Akkurat det siste er litt merkelig, for etterhvert som jeg har blitt godt kjent med sjokolademarkedet i Oslo har jeg funnet en rekke gode butikker her, flere enn i de fleste andre Norske byer. Dette illustreres godt ved denne fristende artikkelserien hos Oslopuls om de mange sjokoladebutikkene som finnes i byen. Jeg går derfor med planer om å registrere disse på ChocoMap når jeg får tid, men travel som jeg er blir det nok ikke med det første. Enn så lenge får jeg derfor nøye meg med å anbefale mitt eget kart hos Google Maps som heter "Sjokolade i Oslo". Dette kartet har en oppdatert oversikt over så godt som alle forretninger og kafeer i byen som jeg vet at fører god sjokolade, så jeg håper dette kan være en super ressurs for de som befinner seg i Oslo og lurer på hvor de kan kjøpe seg noe ekstra godt. Merk dog at dette ikke er noe jeg har brukt mye tid på, så det er helt sikkert både butikker som mangler og andre feil på kartet. Jeg blir derfor veldig glad hvis du sier ifra til meg om de feilene du finner, eller best av alt om du har lyst å hjelpe til med å vedlikeholde kartet!
Samtidig vil jeg også nevne et annet kart jeg har laget: "Aktiviteter rundt Bygdøy & Skøyen" som er en oversikt over alle matbutikker, restauranter og andre steder som kan være interessante for beboere langs Karenslyst Allè og andre som ofte befinner seg i dette området. Håper dette også kan være til nytte for noen :-)
So you just read my last entry on how I found my way into the world of fine chocolate. Maybe you got a little bit inspired, and now you want to try out some fine chocolate for yourself but you don't really know where to start. Traveling to Belgium just to sample chocolates might be tempting, but due to cost or other concerns I expect that most people would like to start off a little closer to home, like at for instance their local grocery-store or a nearby deli. Picking out the right chocolates in such locations can be a challenge however, so here I'll provide a few pointers on how to put quality into your chocolate enjoyment.
First things first: The wrapping. This is usually the only thing you have to go on when picking out chocolates at a regular store, so its naturally one of the things you must pay close attention to. It is well known that the branding and presentation of foods can have a great deal of influence on your perception of taste. This means that chocolates from a brand that is exquisitely wrapped or advertised to be a product of quality and luxury will often be a good buy, if only because the presentation will make you think it tastes better than the other brands.
Also you will rarely find high-quality products in a lousy packaging, so by going for the pretty boxes you have at least reduced the chance of making a bad choice. Note however that many manufacturers tend to wrap poor products in quality packaging to sell more or to fetch a better price, so only going by the quality of packaging is far from a sure thing.
Ever since childhood I have been especially fond of the filling round taste of dark chocolate, something that may have originated from me habitually sneaking bits of Mom's baking-chocolate from the kitchen-drawer, a preference that stayed with me ever since. Naturally I greatly enjoyed most other kinds of Norwegian chocolate too, and while growing up I gradually expanded my chocolate horizons. Early in my travels I discovered Swiss Toblerone, and later I randomly came across the amazing Cote d'Or and Guylian imports from Belgium. With my studies abroad I found myself delighted by Australian Cadbury and American Ghirardelli, but I always treasured the one special kind of Freia baking-chocolate called "Selskapssjokolade" from my childhood far above all others.
This all changed in 2006 when I started traveling regularly to Brussels to visit my girlfriend living there. Flying down so often allowed me to thoroughly taste my way through all of the amazing chocolate-shops we came across on our travels around Belgium, and I got to try an amazing range of delicious pralines the like of which I could never have imagined, as well as the wide selection of Cote d'Or, Galler, Jacques and a host of other brands available in the grocery stores. But one day I came across something different, namely a set of three country-labeled chocolate bars in the display-window of a Neuhaus-shop. The label "Occumare Venezuela" especially piqued my interest, so I simply had to try one...