First, a note: Loving Boyfriend just had his very first first-author scientific journal article accepted for publication yesterday...so I'm very proud of him!
Slow Food is a fantastic organization that I whole-heartedly endorse, even with my meager graduate student stipend. In their words, it's
Slow Food is also simply about taking the time to slow down and to enjoy life with family and friends. Everyday can be enriched by doing something slow - making pasta from scratch one night, seductively squeezing your own orange juice from the fresh fruit, lingering over a glass of wine and a slice of cheese - even deciding to eat lunch sitting down instead of standing up.."
But when I first saw the advertisement for this gem: For the Love of Chocolate, there was no way I was missing it. I teamed up with McAuliflower, the creative mind behind Brownie Points, and we traveled our way to Junction City to meet other chocolate enthusiasts and learn all we could learn about this aphrodisiac (although they don't condone this description, who could argue about how sexy and tempting a rich, luxurious piece of
First of all, I think we were perhaps the youngest people in the room, which I was somewhat surprised about. Perhaps since this is a college town, and eating the 'slow food way' isn't always the cheapest way to go although I don't think it necessarily has to be expensive), students are less likely to want to pay $30 to go and learn about chocolate! But I'm happy to be supporting something I believe in, and I love meeting 'grown-ups,' especially grown-ups that love food as much as I do. :) Imagine walking into brightly-lit room, filled with roses in simple, round, clear glass vases with miniature antique chocolate advertisements on the front. You choose a table, setting your things down, only to see in front of you a set up like this:
CHOCOLATE. Mmmm.... Then, while we browsed the silent auction offerings that were a benefit to Eugene's School Garden Project (a very worthy cause as well), we had cups full of thick, molten chocolate from places like Madagascar, Venezuela, and Columbia.
The tasting itself was led by Paul Albright from the E. Guittard Chocolate Company. They've been making chocolate since the 1800s and it's still a family-owned company, specializing in high-end chocolate (one of their competitors include Valrhona and Ghiradelli). Cocao beans come from cocao trees that grow in seven major regions along the equator, with the most (and best supposedly) coming from the Ivory Coast.
Our first order of business was the single-origin varietal chocolates, encompassing bittersweet dark chocolates from Northern Madagascar, Northern Colombia, Northern Ecuador, and Western Venezuela, and a blend of several. My favorites were the Columbian and Ecuadorian chocolates, and it was interesting that you could actually taste the different varieties of cocao beans (criollo and trinitario - they have actually done a lot of standard genetic breeding to get the most productive varieties possible) that grew in each particular region both in the single chocolate and the blend.
We learned about what the percentage of cocao on packages meant - for instance, 'cocao' is both the cocao liquor (or the roasted and ground up beans) as well as the amount of cocoa butter - or fat, that is added, and varying amounts of both can equal to the same percentage (ie. 70% cocao can mean 0% fat, 70% cocao liquor, or 10% fat, 60% cocao liquor - but apparently only in-the-know chefs and the company can tell you what your particular chocolate bar is made of). I also learned that 'theobromine' is the compound found in chocolate (and also in tea!) that is toxic to dogs...I've always wondered that.
We tasted semi-sweet and bittersweet dark, milk, and white chocolate - as well as the difference that the grind makes. Hold the chocolate morsel just between your tongue and the back of your front teeth to get that sensation. The viscosity, or amount of fat added, also makes a difference in both mouthfeel and taste (who knew there was so much to know about chocolate!). We also learned a little about how chocolate is made...I don't remember all of it, but I do remember that cacao is fermented in the places where it is grown and reaches the processing factories in the form of dried beans. From here to the bar of chocolate, it is the companies that choose which and how many types of cocoa are to be used and how they will be processed. This complicated process sets out from the same point but yields very different results.
After fully saturating ourselves with every type of chocolate imaginable, we tasted savory and sweet chocolate nibbles. The menu included: Vella Dry Jack Cheese, Mole Salami by Salumi Artisan Cured Meats (Mario Batali's father's business, apparently), Chicken with a delicious chocolate mole Sauce, and the dark and soft Chocolate Cherry Bread from Eugene City Bakery. My favorite was the unusual, savory-sweet salami! To finish the evening off, McAuliflower and I swooped in to make bids on the silent auction, and because of our watchful eyes - I won a vintage bottle of 1982 Carmenet Red Table Wine from Sonoma for a great price! That's only four years younger than I am! Loving Boyfriend and I like to dream about some day having our very own wine cellar - okay, well, at least a wine refrigerator - so this is our first bottle of vintage wine. I think I might just have to enjoy it with a big bar of chocolate one of these days to celebrate (I've heard it should be drunk before too much longer).