December 1, 2005

Do You Dream?

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As I perused the mall a few days after Thanksgiving, my senses were slammed with visions of perfectly clothed families, smells of roasting almonds and sounds of the latest offerings in the digital world. However, none of these clothing stores, specialty gift huts or electronic outposts caught my attention. It was all a brightly colored, indistinct haze. However, as I ambled further, the following emblem stood out. My meandering mind halted at attention:

“Do you dream in chocolate?”

“Yes, and in color too,” was my mental response.

As fellow shoppers breezed by, I found myself stopping in front of the sign, staring at the display filled with brightly colored foil wrappers, and then entering the store as if in a trance. I was in heaven – truffles to my right, bulk candy to my left and all with that silky smooth, buttery mouth feel that only high quality chocolate can afford. After one sample of stracciatella, a truffle with a white chocolate shell, cocoa pieces and a white chocolate filling, I was inclined to buy the entire store. And then I remembered that I am a college student. I opened my wallet and realized that I could afford to buy either one small bag of truffles or a book for class. What was a chocolate lover to do?

When I was a little kid, I didn’t think that life could get any better than a bar of Hershey’s dark chocolate with almonds or a bag of Nestle chocolate chips. Words like “Godiva” and “Lindt” were never spoken in my house. My chocolate ignorance was shattered the day my grandmother returned from a trip to Europe. Her gift to me was not a pair of boots or a sweater, but it was a tiny box of truffles. Never before had I experienced such complex, smooth flavors in one bite of chocolate. And never before had my chocolate craving been satiated after one piece. On a bad day, I had been known to consume a half bag of chocolate chips. Now, one truffle or one piece of European chocolate will do the trick.

Why could I be satisfied after one piece of nice chocolate as opposed to a bag of mediocre chocolate? Because not all chocolate is created equal. First, there is the distinction between milk and dark chocolate. Both types of chocolate originate from cocoa, but milk chocolate represents the impure form, diluted with milk powder, lecithin and sugar. Next, different types of chocolate contain different percentages of cocoa. Lately, chocolate manufacturers have used these percentages as a clever marketing ploy. Chocolate wrappers now declare “45% Cocoa” or “70% Cocoa.” However, like most food, quantity does not yield quality. If the cocoa beans are substandard and the production process is poor, no amount of cocoa will yield a high quality piece of chocolate.

High quality chocolate results from cocoa beans that emerge close to the equator and are subject to proper storage, cleaning, roasting, shelling, crushing, blending, grinding and kneading processes. Many assume that the ultra-creamy taste of chocolate stems from the addition of milk. Hence, the misconception that milk chocolate is creamier than dark chocolate. Think for a minute – have you ever eaten a piece of gritty milk chocolate? You probably have. In fact, the creaminess of chocolate stems from the aeration process at the end of production, called “conching.” The more attention paid to this part of the process, the more exquisite the mouth feel of your chocolate. Naturally, these more meticulous cocoa bean selection and production processes yield not only a high quality, but also a more expensive piece of chocolate. And people are noticing the difference. High-end chocolate sales have risen 20% each year since 2001.

According to an article in Newsweek magazine last March, “chocolate is joining wine as a signifier of gourmet aspirations.” More and more chocolate lovers convert to chocolate snobs as they taste chocolate with the same discrimination as one tastes wine. Also like wine, chocolate has become the subject of entire festivals, like the Maison du Chocolat in Paris and chocolate lovers, including myself, have traveled from around the world to sample the fare.

On that note, I am back at the Lindt cash register, trying to decide whether to invest $12 in a small bag of truffles. I think back to the one dollar Hershey bar with its flat, sticky, granular taste and compare it to the silky smooth, buttery, creamy chocolate in my hand. I buy the truffles.

Archived article by Anna Fishman
Sun Staff Writer