For the love of chocolate

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

"an educational organization dedicated to stewardship of the land and ecologically sound food production; to the revival of the kitchen and the table as centers of pleasure, culture, and community; to the invigoration and proliferation of regional, seasonal culinary traditions; to the creation of a collaborative, ecologically-oriented, and virtuous globalization; and to living a slower and more harmonious rhythm of life.

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.."

Every bit of that description is something I believe in, and also work at trying to do in my own life. I've been a member of Slow Food Eugene for almost a year now, and although I've drooled at the very mention of each event they were having (turkey tastings, dinners at wineries and peach orchards, demonstrations of different cuts of meat and where they come from, apple tastings...the list goes on and on), for one reason or another, I haven't been able to attend a single one. Boo.

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 chocolate is?) in three hours.

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).

11 comments from you:

lisaSD said...

Michelle--This sounds like a dream day--really! And the single origins...yum. I noticed Trader Joe's has a single origin gift box this season...might have to check that out! Thanks for the write up,..I too, am a supporter of slow food, at least in theory. I haven't quite found the cash to join up yet.

McAuliflower said...

you bet me to the write up! I've got it as my homework tonight :)

vlb5757 said...

My goodness, you have been a busy girl. Chocolate and red wine. You are living the high life now. I would have loved to go to the chocolate tasting. I love my chocolate everyday and I apologize to no one, not even Weight Watchers! Ha! I dare them to pry it out of my cold dead hands. lol. I brought some chocolate bars back from France the year I went and nibbled away at 83% for over a year. It was really bitter but I found that after eating that for so long, everything else seemed too sweet. Great stuff! Nice posting and I loved finding out about the Slow Foods movement.

McAuliflower said...

Great write up Michelle. You included all the details that I didn't have the patience to post.

I too found it a bit surprising that we were the young-ens!

Dawn said...

Michelle, that sounds like a blast. I love the thought of tasting chocolate to really taste it. I don't eat a lot of chocolate, but when I do, it has to be amazing. Good score on the wine, I wonder how it will be? I had never heard of slow food before, but I like the sound of it. And now, since lisad mentioned it above, I'll have to check at TJ's for the single origin gift box.

Nerissa said...

I think I finally understand slow food now. You're the first person who wrote it in a way that I actually "got it" this time.
Sounds like you had a great time! I am so envious. :)

ilva said...

Do you know that the Slow Food movement started in Italy?? Sounds great, I'm envious, I want to go to a chocolate evening too...

Shauna said...

I'm jealous. I would have happily been one of the young ones in the room with you. This is a wonderfully infectious write-up you've done here, my dear. Enjoy the wine now! Life's short. Just drink it slowly.

Melissa CookingDiva said...

Michelle---being the chocoholic I am, I almost passed out just looking at your choc pictures :) I try to avoid choc the most I can---but have to admit the power of such a delicacy. Then, I surrender and eat as much as I can. Knowing myself...that means plenty of IT. So, probably I will be sick for the next few days after the choc attack, BUT obviously 100% happy :)

J said...

hi michelle, you're so lucky! i would have loved to attend a session like that - thanks for sharing; really enjoyed all the details you took the trouble to post...

michelle said...

Hi LisaD,
It was a great day - and I'm definitely going to check out Trader Joes for their version of single origin chocolates. Thanks for the tip!

Hi Vickie,
I love chocolate too, especially just a little piece of dark semi-sweet or bittersweet. I find milk chocolate way too sweet these days. And I'm convinced it's chocolate, not apples, that keep the doctor away (all those good antioxidants, right?), so screw WW! I don't know that I've ever had 83%, but it sure sounds yummy.

Hi McAuliflower,
Thanks! You made me laugh with your write-up too - I love the way you say things. I'm really glad that you were able to come with me.

Hi Dawn,
I wish I didn't like chocolate as much as I do - my waist would appreciate me more! But I agree, it does have to be fabulous! I'll let you know how the wine is when we get around to drinking it.

Hi Diningdica,
Thanks for visiting. I'm glad my write-up helped you understand Slow Food. I really think it's a great organization that tries to make a difference and help around the community as much as possible.

Hi Ilva,
I did hear that! They expained the history of slow food right before we started and it really is interesting! Especially that the founder's annoyance at McDonald's was sort of the catalyst!

Hi Shauna,
I hope your foot is getting better every day! I wish you could have joined us - it was such a good time! We're going to drink the wine soon, as it's ready to drink now according to everyone I've talked to. We're going to do it right though, with big, wide wine glasses we can really get all the scents from and a special dinner...and just take our sweet time through the whole thing.

Hi Melissa,
Willpower is such an over-rated thing! We have to enjoy it while we can!

Hi J,
I always like learning little facts about the food I eat, though it was hard to write things down because it was difficult to focus when there was so much chocolate everywhere!