Hello! I hope you all had a great Valentine's day! We had a great time pairing chocolate with wines and a great time was had by all. Anna Coconati, our talented Pastry Chef agreed to walk us through some of the different chocolates she uses for different purposes, and we learned a lot about chocolate in general.
Chocolate, as we know it in the Western world, is a sweet treat that has been around for a couple of centuries, although the cocoa bean has been harvested and treasured in the New world for millennia. Chocolate’s 4,000-year history began in ancient Mesoamerica, present-day Mexico. It is believed that the wild version of the plant originated in the Amazon valley much earlier, and was carried there by early humans. The Olmec, one of the earliest civilizations in Latin America, were the first known to turn the cacao plant into chocolate. They drank their chocolate during rituals and used it as medicine.
Centuries later, the Mayans praised chocolate as the drink of the gods. Mayan chocolate was a revered brew made of roasted and ground cacao seeds mixed with chilies, water and cornmeal. Mayans poured this mixture from one pot to another, creating a thick foamy beverage called “xocolatl”, meaning “bitter water.”
By the 15th century, the Aztecs used cocoa beans as currency. They believed that chocolate was a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl, and drank it as a refreshing beverage, an aphrodisiac, and even to prepare for war. Pretty impressive Valentines gift, right?
The Spanish brought cacao back to Europe with them, where it was mixed with sugar and, over time, became the treat we know today. The beans are harvested and then fermented for a time before being dried and roasted. The cocoa solids are separated from the fats, and then recombined in various combinations and additions of sugar, oils, emulsifiers and other ingredients to make the many forms of chocolate we are familiar with today.
Noel 38% Cacao Couverture- Ivory Coast
This first chocolate is a couverture ( a high quality chocolate meant for coating or dipping things), and probably the lightest we tasted. The origin is West Africa, the location from which most of the world's chocolate is produced. This chocolate has a lower proportion of solids (38%), and so the bitterness is not so pronounced. the high amount of fat in the mixture gives a nice mouth feel and it melted easily.
Gianduja Hazelnut Paste
For contrast, we compared Gianduja [pronounced: jaan·doo·yuh]. This is a chocolate made with the addition of finely ground hazelnuts. Gianduja dates back to the Napolenonic era, when the ports of Europe were closed to British shipping and exotic cocoa beans were difficult to source. In the northern Italian region of Piedmonte, a chocolatier decided to stretch the valuable ingredient with the hazelnuts that grew so abundantly locally. This innovation was named after a character in a popular Marionette play at the time. Ironically, this delicious mixture is more expensive now than many other chocolates. On tasting we found it to be decidedly richer and more unctuous than the Couverture.
Blandy's Malmsey 5-Year Madeira
To accompany this first round, we chose a sweet Madeira. Madeira is an island off the coast of Africa, an early Portuguese colony. The difficulty of the wine going bad was solved by adding brandy to the barrels before storing, which also added flavor and potency. As many ships stocked up in Madeira on their way to distant ports of call, the barrels of Madeira wine in their holds were overheated by the tropical sun, completely changing the character and making a distinctive flavor. Madeira became very popular during the 1700s, and was a favorite of our own founding fathers. This particular madeira is sweeter than most, and has aged in oak for five years. The aroma was intoxicating in itself, the strong notes of raisins, caramel and toffee reaching our noses before ever taking a sip. The sweetness of the wine was tempered by the chocolate we just tasted, revealing a deeper fruitiness and acidity. It is a good pairing, I recommend it highly.
Felchin Ultra Dark Masse à Glacer
Felchin à Glacer is (as its translated name suggests) a chocolate compound designed for glazing, coating and enrobing things. It is not known for its interesting taste. Sweet but flat, if one was blindfolded it would be hard to tell if this was dark or light chocolate and the texture was slightly waxy. We tasted this to get a persepctive, this is not a fine choocolate but a functional one. It does not break or sieze easily and is very forgiving of temperature fluctuations.
64% Cacao Bitter Guyaquil
This is the workhorse of our pastry kitchen. After tasting the Felchin, this was deep and rich with sweet notes but not too dark or bitter with a slight overtone of espresso.
We like this one because the percentage of cacao is high enough to carry the chocolate flavor for almost any use, but versatile enough to be used for many different applications.
Longevity Cabernet Sauvignon, California 2018
So the pairing of cabernet sauvignon with chocolate is a classic, the bitterness of the tannins in the wine cancelling out the bitterness of the chocolate solids and melding with the sugar.
I have to be honest, I chose this wine because it has a heart on the label. I know that's not the most fancy reason but it was Valentine's day and it seemed like an easy win. It wasn't though. The chocolate far outstripped the flavor of the wine, making it seem flat and tasteless. Not our best pairing, maybe the 38% would have been better.
68% Noel Morogoro -Tanzania
Next we stepped up to a beautiful high Cacao chocolate. This is single-sourced from Tanzania and the highest percentage of Cacao we had tasted so far. The texture was firm but not brittle. The initial taste was slightly bitter, but the sweetness came out on the palate after a second. I tasted the slight fruitiness of the cocoa beans in the finish. A very nice chocolate, very good for eating on its own I would say, although we do use it for ganache and other desserts here at Vi Highlands Ranch.
Noval Black Reserve Porto-Portugal
So you can't taste chocolate without port. I decided to save it for this chocolate, as I knew it would be really rich. The aroma [of the port] was of vanilla and something darker-like tar or tobacco. The texture was very rich and viscous, almost syrupy, but it wasn't cloyingly sweet, and the cocoa flavors in the port complemented those in the chocolate perfectly. The finish was of blackberries and possibly dried figs. I had to taste this one several times (it's my job...), and found it to be perfectly paired. For the record, there are two full bottles of this one left in my office, so if anyone wants to try some with the dark chocolate blueberries or the triple chocolate mousse cake coming up on the menu just tell your server to see the Chef.
Dark Chocolate and Bacon Truffle
Almost there. So of course we had to show off a bit. Anna showed us how to make her famous Bacon and Dark Chocolate Truffles, and we decided to end with this one. I will be sharing the recipe in a later post (or maybe a cookbook?), but it is basically a ganache with lots of bacon. The texture was soft, and perfect, the salty bacon and sweet dark chocolate making a perfect match of neither sweet nor savory.
Iwai 45 Whisky-Japan
So of course what goes better with bacon and chocolate than whiskey? I decided to use the Iwai 45, a higher-alcohol whiskey from the Mars distillery. This one has a profile more similar to bourbon than most Japanese whiskeys, and the hint of sweetness with the bold strength of this was fabulous. Very little of this was wasted, and as I looked around the room, people really seemed to appreciate it.
Chocolate, bacon and good whiskey are representative of the good things in life and if we can't enjoy them then the world would be a much less colorful place. I thank everyone for their help putting together this fun party and special thanks to Mr. Atkins for the great photographs. We will do this again soon, don't forget to join me at Culinary Corner for a weekly discussion of the menu and food in general.