Professional chocolate critic and educator. 25+ years in high tech, 15 years in chocolate. Graduate of Rhode Island School of Design (BFA Photography).
Whatever is planted in Bali by definition originated in South/Central America so it's probably covered in this new classification system - how is not clear.
I have to admit that ALL of my best pizza experiences have been crustless as the shape of the pie was more free form than round or square. White clam pizza made with chopped fresh clams and lots of garlic. No cheese, no sauce, only really good olive oil, cooked in an ancient brick oven. Not Sally's, not Modern, but Pepe's or The Spot. New Haven, CT. If you've never been, you gotta go. New Haven also occupies a special place in hamburger history from what I hear. But that's another web site.
This is very close to my sentiment about chocolate though it articulates the importance of connectedness in a way that I talk about in a different context. Thanks for pointing this one out.
I have a lot of trouble with continuing the debate about serving size when it comes to chocolate for the simple reason that all of the number with respect to the chemical makeup of cacao products that might have an effect on human health are way to general. The numbers the USDA publishes on cocoa powder for example talk about two types, natural and alkalized. However, there are huge differences in chemical makeup based on the genetics of the cacao and other aspects of processing.
In order to be of any possible meaningful therapeutic value, I think it's necessary to test every single cacao product individually and report on the specifics of that product. It's also probably necessary to go beyond simple ORAC evaluation and look into much more precise analyses as, for example the presence of a specific iron cation that is involved in the metabolism of other chemical components of cacao.
For me, I think a better measure (because it is a more closely corresponding measure) than serving size would be to report antioxidant activity on a "per 100 calories" and/or "per 100 fat calories" basis. If you take a look at it that way, cocoa powder comes out far ahead of chocolate.
I do believe what you say about coffee and Colombia. My experience in all my travels in Central and South America is that all good stuff ends up on the export market - or in Duty Free or on the black market. What is consumed locally is not the stuff that will command the best prices from foreign buyers.
The one main exception to this is fruit. Everywhere I have traveled in Latin America the fruit - mango, papaya, guava, pineapple, orange juice, passion fruit, etc., etc., is the best. Usually this is because it grows in everyone's back yard and they just go and pick it.
If you are one of those people who obsess about not eating fruit and veg when you travel outside the US you are really missing out.
On my first trip to Ecuador I bought salted green mango slices from a street vendor. Peeled, so I felt it was okay. I had a great green salad at Cano Hondo on Sunday night with my sopa de pescado. Finely grated cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, and a light house vinaigrette that had something special about it. Superb. Was I taking chances with my digestive tract? Well, I wouldn't try it with a street vendor but at a hotel that caters to foreigners? Absolutely.
If you are seriously into macarons you should look out for the best-selling Macaroon Swoon by French pastry chef Stephane Glacier, MOF. Even though it's a lot more expensive than Hermes' book (it's $126.95 from Kerekes), it has sold more than 40,000 copies in France. His basil macaron with tomato gelee is the next one on my list to make.
A good online source for macarons (and madeleines) is MadMac one of whose founder is Florian Bellanger who used to be the exec PC at Fauchon here in NY.
A little bit of macaron history from the MadMac site:
The Macaron cookie was born in Italy, introduced by the chef of Catherine de Medicis in 1533 at the time of her marriage to the duc d'Orleans who became king of France in 1547 as Henry II. The term "macaron" has the same origin as the word "macaroni" -- both mean "fine dough".
The first Macarons were simple cookies, made of almond powder, sugar and egg whites. Many towns throughout France have their own prized tale surrounding this delicacy. In Nancy, the granddaughter of Catherine de Medici was supposedly saved from starvation by eating Macarons. In Saint-Jean-de-Luz, the macaron of chef Adam regaled Louis XIV and Marie-Therese at their wedding celebration in 1660.
Only at the beginning of the 20th century did the Macaron become a "double-decker" affair. Pierre Desfontaines, the grandson of Louis Ernest Laduree (Laduree pastry and salon de the, rue royale in Paris) had the idea to fill them with a "chocolate ganache" and to stick them together.
In my writings about chocolate here on Serious Eats and other places I have often said that the relationship you want to have with your chocolatier is the relationship your grandmother wanted to have with her butcher. Fortunately, I have cultivated this kind of relationship with my butcher. His name is Sal. I live in southern Westchester county and at least once a month (more often around the holidays) for the past twelve years, I have been trekking south into the Bronx to shop in the Italian neighborhood known as Arthur Avenue.
I can get anything I need from Sal and if it's a little out of the ordinary I call up in advance and he gets it for me. If I have a question about what cut to use for a particular menu, Sal helps me out. Everything is trimmed exactly the way I ask - whether it's butterflying flank steak or deboning a leg of lamb without butterflying it. And even though I tip generously, I end up spending less than I would spend at the local "specialty" butcher in the gourmet store about five minutes from my home, even when I factor in the cost of gas.
Besides my butcher (Biancardi's), I have developed strong ties with my fishmonger (Randazzo's), greengrocer (Boiano Brothers in the retail market), general goods store (Teitel Brothers), and deli (Tino's). I also have a favorite bread store (Madonia Brothers) and pasta store (Borgatti's).
For me a trip down to the Avenue is an opportunity to relax and enjoy. I plan my route based on what I want to buy and always build in time to take a few moments (that sometimes stretches to half an hour if they want to introduce me to new delicacies) to connect with and to the people I'm buying from. They all know my name and there's always a hello when I walk in. And I know where to buy the best cup of coffee in the neighborhood.
Apart from the fact that the prices are hard to beat (even at my local Costco), it's the welcome that keeps me coming back ... because I have made it a point to turn shopping on the Avenue into an adventure, not a chore to be endured.
@pheel - This is my opinion and there is no need for me to present a balanced view.
@timruddell - it is a fair comment and very much central to the question at hand.
By "Fair Trade" I mean FLO - the international Fair Trade Licensing Organization (headquartered in Brussels) and the various licensees, including Trans Fair USA.
What many people fail to recognize is, that no matter its humanitarian manifesto, Fair Trade is, first and foremost, a business. Two of the reasons Fair Trade is not more widely accepted are:
a) the business model is fundamentally flawed
b) there are not enough checks and balances in the system
The business model is flawed (in my opinion) because:
a) The cost of certification is born by the co-ops being certified. There is an annual recurring fee that amounts to a kick-back which, in some cases, represents a significant portion of the premium the co-op receives for its crop. In order to be "fair" Fair Trade should bear the cost of certification.
b) All of the market risk is born by the co-ops. Fair Trade receives the same licensing fees no matter what the price of cacao is on the world market. The premium paid to the co-ops floats with the market price and goes down as the market price goes up. Above a certain price point, Fair Trade actually makes more more money than the farmers! To be fair, the prices paid to Fair Trade should reflect market economics and the differences in market economies in different countries.
c) The ultimate consumer (the chocolate eater) does not realize that most of the extra money they pay for Fair Trade certified chocolate does not go to the farmer, it goes to the manufacturer of the chocolate. If the average premium paid to the farmer is US$.10 (ten cents) per pound, and Fair Trade makes US$.10 per pound from every organization that wants to license the Fair Trade label, and on average, one pound of cocoa beans is made into two pounds of chocolate, then the premium the consumer pays for a Fair Trade chocolate should not reasonably be several dollars per pound.
d) While the certification process focuses on environmental and labor practices, it overlooks areas that would significantly increase output and quality. Training farmers in simple orchard management techniques (e.g., proper pruning) has been demonstrated to as much as double production. Training farmers to improve fermentation practices increases quality - and the prices they can command for their cocoa.
There are not enough checks and balances in the system:
Although Fair Trade requires that certified co-ops be democratically organized, it is the management of the co-op that decides what is done with the premiums: There is no mandate that the premiums get paid to the farmers. There is also the assumption that because the co-ops are democratically organized that they are not corrupt. This is not a valid assumption.
I have visited cacao plantations in four countries - Ecuador, Venezuela, Mexico, and Belize - including Fair Trade certified co-ops and Rainforest Alliance certified co-ops; and I am about to visit several more in the Dominican Republic. In the case of the Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certified co-ops I made two or more visits over the course of 18 months to two years. So when I say that there is corruption in the management of certified co-ops it comes from first-hand experience.
The place where I have seen Fair Trade work is when a company gets closely involved overseeing its investment in the co-op and its farmer members. That place is Belize and the Toledo Cacao Growers Association. In this case, Green and Black's has (or at least had until earlier this year when that person succumbed to pneumonia - I don't know if he has been replaced) a full-time representative in Punta Gorda overseeing the operation ensuring that the money gets distributed properly and that information about crop prices and premiums paid is accurate.
On the other hand, in the Luz y Guia co-op south of Guayaquil in Ecuador, the local national cacao growers association, Fedecade, routinely appropriates the premiums and uses them to solidify its political base - in other words the monies are used to cover the "overhead" costs of managing the co-op and little or none of the money makes it to the farmer. Or at least that was the case in 2005 when I was last there.
Part of the problem is that there just aren't enough people in the system. When I was in Belize in May, 2007 I learned that Trans Fair has one field worker for cacao for all of Latin America. That's not enough.
@tnewms - I did not use the word "widespread." I said that there are abuses, however I don't believe the figures that are used. There are over 600,000 smallholder farms in the Ivory Coast alone. If the number of field workers in Western Africa is even 100 times larger than it is for Latin America that means that each field worker would have to visit 6,000 farms to collect the data they present. However that's not the case so they're using statistical means to arrive at their figures, and, as the old saw goes, "there are lies, damn lies, and statistics."
I am not a statistician, so I don't know what the sample size would have to be in order to be statistically accurate. However I know of at least one way that the numbers can be skewed. Most of the reported abuses I have been made aware of are near the border with Mali. So, if the sample, or a large part of it, is drawn from this region then when extrapolated out across the entire country the numbers would be high.
It is also important to remember that these are family farms. In the US, every day young children participate in farm work, some of it involving threats and hazards from farm equipment and chemicals. During harvest times, these children are sometimes even be asked to work from dawn to dusk to get the harvest in - easily twelve hours. Do we consider that to be abusive child labor? If not, why not?
It is important to educate children - and many adults - about inequities in the world. It is just as important to get the facts right and, from my perspective, this campaign does not and presents the "facts" they do present in an alarmist way.
For all its shortcomings, Fair Trade provides "a" solution - not "the" solution. However, the Fair Trade movement has garnered huge institutional acceptance and there are not enough people looking at what they are doing and saying, "You Can Do Better. You Should Be Doing Better." We need to promote alternative methods and processes and figure out which ones work and which ones don't and realize that what works in one country might not work in another and not impose a single system worldwide.
I am one of the surprisingly small number of people who do not accept Fair Trade at face value and speak up. If you really want to know what's going on, I suggest you make it a point to travel to a third-world country and see the actual situation on the ground and not rely on anyone else's reports. Even mine.
@ ilovebutter - with respect to cocoa butter protecting antioxidant levels I was following the lead in the article that prompted me to write this. Thanks for citing a source that clears this up.
For thos who don't know, PGPR = Polyglycerol Polyricinoleate = an emulsifier made from castor beans which reduces the viscosity of chocolate and similar coatings and compounds. It is used at low levels (fractions of percents). PGPR is a yellowish, viscous liquid composed of polyglycerol esters of polycondensed fatty acids. (It may also be polyglycerol esters of dimerized fatty acids of soya bean oil.) PGPR is strongly lipophilic, soluble in fats and oils and insoluble in water and ethyl alcohol. In chocolates it is used as a viscosity reducing agent. It is usually paired with lecithin or another plastic viscosity-reducing agent. It can also be used as an emulsifier in spreads and in salad dressings.
Vanillin can be natural or synthetic. Here are some sources on vanillin.
University of the West Indies (Jamaica)
I prefer what Chantal Coady long ago coined, "real chocolate." Only cocoa butter, only natural vanilla, and - preferably - no lecithin or other emulsifier.
Actually, I personally don't care one way or the other. However, many people do and will, so that will be an impediment to widespread adoption which is a point of clarification I should have made in the article.
For what it is worth, one of the reasons that many European manufacturers have stopped using soy-derived lecithin in their chocolates is that it is hard to find lecithin that is guaranteed GMO-free. This is done to remove a barrier to purchasing raised by customer perception irrespective of there being any rational basis for that perception.
I actually think that messy, inaccurate, selective "breading" would be tasty and aesthetically pleasing. No reason to be an ascetic and not enjoy.
If you like white chocolate (and even if you think you don't) you may be interested in a new line of white chocolate bars being produced by Askinosie Chocolate. In addition to plain white, there is a bar with roasted, salted pistachios and a bar with roasted cocoa nibs. What makes these bars unusual is that the cocoa butter used to make them is being pressed by Askinosie in their own factory in Springfield, MO from the beans used to make their San Jose Del Tambo (Ecuador) bar. The cocoa butter is unprocessed - it is undeodorized and unfiltered which renders it a translucent pale brown, not white at all. Also, they use goat's milk instead of cow's milk which does not have a lot of caramel (from cooked milk) notes that hide the fact that deodorized cocoa butter has absolutely no flavor.
My favorite is the pistachio (call me nuts!) followed closely by the bar with the nibs.
cybele - I had hoped that people would cotton on to the fact that my tongue was pressed firmly to my cheek as I wrote this. No, sugar is not what makes chocolate "feminine." Chocolate itself is, of course, gender neutral; people's attitudes toward chocolate are not gender neutral. I think it's interesting (or funny or sad depending on my mood) that chocolate is not considered "suitable" somehow for gifting at Father's Day by many people. That was my motivation for penning this post. I debated for a long time adding even more tongue-in-cheek references (like 'manly man' and 'girly man' from Saturday Night Live) to make it even clearer but I tossed them into the bit-bucket for the sake of brevity.
frederika - A lot of people really like Vosges' bacon bar but, for my taste, I like to enhance my bacon with chocolate, not enhance my chocolate with bacon. It's a philosophical thing.
Erinay77 - The bar in question is the Salty Pretzel bar from The Chocolate Bar.
I apologize for the delay in getting back to you all on these comments, I was in Belize leading a chocolate tour and the Internet connection was down all week.
I wrote what I did in a more simplistic way than I could have, in part because I have been asked to keep my posts to a certain length (my first was way long) and in part because I wanted to be deliberately provocative. Necessarily, there are many things I wanted to say that got tossed into the editorial bit-bucket during the process of editing for length.
Perhaps more to the point is that I expect readers of Serious Eats to be, well, more serious about what they eat and more willing to consider alternate viewpoints that challenge the perceptions they hold about certain foods than a general audience. Readers of Serious Eats are a self-selected group and while mabisa might not expect there to be a linear relationship between cocoa content and chocolate quality, less sophisticated chocolate fans have come to look at 70% as a magic number that defines a minimum level of quality. It is these nouveau pseudo-chocophiles that tend to be the snobs.
It is accurate to say that while there is no consistent relationship between cocoa content and chocolate quality it is possible to generalize that a 72% chocolate is likely to be more bitter than a 60%. Likely: Not necessarily. Like most generalizations, there are exceptions, and there are enough exceptions to make the generalization not useful - for me.
As for my favorites ...
kiseichocolates talks about the 74% chocolate from the DR. This has to be the Hacienda Helvesia from Felchlin and I agree with the assessment about its lack of bitterness and the elegance (I would also add finesse) of the chocolate. If you like dark chocolate this is one of the best currently being made - but it is not widely available unless you are a professional. (If enough of you are interested I can look into getting some.) It is rich and earthy and intense and totally satisfying. The 65% Venezuelan is also from Felchlin, the Maracaibo Clasificado, another superb chocolate.
They are not Felchlin's best, however, a designation I bestow on the 2005 harvest of their Cru Sauvage, a 68% bar made from beans harvested from feral (formerly domesticated and now growing wild (or untended)) trees growing in the Beni region of northeastern Bolivia. This chocolate had a light, airy taste with citrusy notes that was high up in the nose and a texture that I refer to as dissolving rather than melting.
My favorite chocolates are ones that challenge my perception of what tastes and textures in chocolate can be. Because I like varietal and origin chocolates, I tend to shy away from picking a chocolate as my favorite because I know that next year's version is going to taste different. The wine analogy that works for me is to say that you like the style of a particular vineyard (say Clarendon Hill in Australia) because you've tasted a bunch of their wines and have liked what you taste. You'd then point to one or more particular examples, say the 2005 Grenache, that you especially liked. The 2004 you might not have liked as well.
With chocolate, you might say that you like the style of, say, Felchlin, and that you particularly like the Creole a 49% milk chocolate. Or you like the style of Valrhona, but particularly like the Apamakia.
Chocolate works that way for me. I like (among many others) Felchlin, Pralus, and Bonnat so I am willing to try anything they make because I know it will be very well made. For each chocolate maker I have specific favorites. I had a very interesting tasting of bars from Cacao Sampaka (Barcelona) while in Belize and was sufficiently impressed, especially by their 100% Ecuadorean, to add them to the short list of companies whose new work I search out to try.
And yes, it takes eating a lot of chocolate (tough, I know) to reach a point of knowing what you like so that when you taste it in a chocolate you know it instantly.
Finally the addition of soy lecithin is not necessarily an indication of poor quality. Most chocolate manufacturers use it. Lecithin is used to thin out the chocolate to make it easier to mold. One-half per cent lecithin can replace about 3 per cent cocoa butter, so it is also less expensive. Most manufacturers who have stopped using lecithin in their chocolate have done so because it's hard to find lecithin that is certified GMO-free and a surprising number of people are allergic to soy.
In the Bronx - one of the great butcher shops in NYC is Biancardi's on Arthur Ave just two doors north of the retail market. I've been going there for over 12 years and Sal (Biancardi) is my go-to guy. I get great service and I can call ahead and order anything I need - they do it just the way I ask. So ... go ahead and take the time to create a relationship with your butcher; the better they know you and you know them - and, well, it all shows up on the plate when you sit down to eat. (Looking for great fish? Cross the street and to your left - look for the blue awning that says Randazzo Brothers.)
creator and moderator: TheChocolateLife
Serrated knives often work better than straight edges in part because of the sawing motion. However, very long thin serrated blades usually don't have the heft to be very efficient.
If you are using a straight edge knife a common mistake is to use one that is too small for the task. (I am always surprised at the number of people who consistently use knives that are either too large or too small for what they're doing.)
Ideally you want a knife whose tallest dimension back near the handle is at least twice as thick as what you're cutting. Break the large bar into smaller more manageable bits, and chop along short edges, shooting for thick shavings. You can cut across these if you need.
It also helps if the chocolate is warmer rather than colder. I wouldn't lay hands on it, but getting the temp of the bar into the middle 70s will help a lot, especially for dark (it should not be necessary for milk).
Finally, and most obviously, make sure the knife is sharp. Quick question: What's the best knife sharpener in the world? A: The one you use. I keep a sharpener with flexible tines coated with carborundum in the drawer closest to may main work area in my kitchen. It's easy to take the knife sharpener out and set it up (takes about 5 seconds) and run the knife through a couple of times to touch up the edge.
Makes all the difference in the world for this kind of work.
:: Clay Gordon
creator and moderator @ www.thechocolatelife.com
While the chocolate might not be "bad" it certainly will not be at its best after more than a month in storage at room temperature. My recommendation to you, especially if you happen to be studying in Barcelona or will be visiting there shortly before you leave, is to pick up some Spanish chocolates. Some names to look for include Enric Rovira, Oriol Balaguer, Cacao Sampaka, and Blanxart.
The 90% statistic comes from a research report published by the market research firm Packaged Facts. The key to the statistic is in some form.
To get to the 90 per cent figure it is necessary to include chocolate milk, chocolate soy milk, chocolate breakfast cereal, chocolate yogurt, chocolate ice cream, chocolate ice milk, chocolate frozen yogurt, hot fudge, regular fudge, chocolate chip pancakes, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate wafer cookies, chocolate chip muffins, chocolate chip anything, chocolate snack cakes, brownies, chocolate pudding, fudge, hot chocolate, most everything with the word mocha in it, and that's before we even get around to thinking about the chocolate in candy bars, chocolate bars, and confections. A surprisingly large number of savory dishes, and not just Mexican ones, use chocolate to add depth, complexity, and richness.
When you think about chocolate that inclusively, you'll see that it's nat all that difficult to get chocolate (the sixth food group) into your diet every day - it might even be impossible to avoid if you have kids.
Hi, Cybele. Great photo of your wine fridge. I outgrew mine a long time ago and upgraded to a wine cellar down in my basement (very common here in the Northeast [basements, not wine cellars] but not so common in LA). Airtight containers are a good idea, hadn't really thought of using Pyrex but it's a very good choice for many reasons and it would be great for combating the humidity problem I face in late summer.
I was on the same University of Chocolate trip to Ecuador in 2005 that both Sam and Langdon were on. I think I am responsible for convincing them to make the trip. I, too, was surprised at a lot of what I saw there.
Hi, Sam! Hi, Langdon!
That said, think a lot of this is the pot calling the kettle black:
The minimum wage in the US (about $15,000 for 2000 hours/year -- BEFORE TAXES) isn't enough to support a family of four these days in lots of US cities; while it may be above the official poverty line I can assure you it would be a threadbare existence.
While one definition of chores might be "household tasks like washing the dishes, or doing the laundry," I can assure you that the chores on a family farm in the US (and Australia - I have relatives that own a sheep station and I have been there during shearing) include tasks that involve heavy physical labor. Is AU$20 week allowance fair pay for the work being done?
We can bicker about this all we want, but we can't pretend that the problem is only in far-away places. Chances are there's an emotionally and/or sexually abused child on family farm being asked to perform "adult" chores for starvation wages (allowance) within an hour of where you are sitting as you read this. Is that morally any different from a child on a family farm in Ecuador or Costa Rica?
Reading Sam's account, there is no way cacao can be a sustainable commodity because of the oil required to transport it. If we take Sam's argument literally and to its illogical extreme, the TAVA factory should be in Vanuatu within horse-drawn cart distance of the village where the cacao is grown, made completely from materials sourced within a day's walk, be 100% solar-powered, and the chocolate made solely for local consumption so as not to consume any petrochemicals. Of course, a cacao/chocolate business organized along those principles wouldn't be sustainable, would it? The Grenada Chocolate Company comes remarkably close except that they only source 25% of their power from their solar installation and the finished chocolate has to be shipped off the island.
Fair Trade Often Isn't
At the risk of being very non-PC, FLO is a bunch of white people in air-conditioned offices in Europe telling non-white farmers toiling in the tropics what's fair. Come again? How come the farmers didn't get to decide what was fair?
Certification Programs, Useful as They Are, All Share the Same Basic Flaws
The farmer or the co-op has to pay a certification fee. Certification organizations are businesses and I think they should pay the farmers rather than charge them. It is the cost of certification, which is borne by the farmers and co-ops, that is the largest barrier to widespread certification. After how many years how many Fair Trade/RA certified cocoa co-ops are there?
The farmer bears all the risk. FLO takes a fixed fee per unit irrespective of the price of the commodity involved. The fee FLO takes should float along with the commodity so that they are sufficiently motivated - as a business - to do what's necessary to grow the business. Right now the economics are entirely artificial and therefore not sustainable.
All certification programs assume that all actors in the supply chain are honest. Come again? We don't assume that our governments are honest so why should we assume that some cooperative in Ecuador is above reproach?
While I agree that certification programs are better than not having certification programs, they are only one approach. I agree that rather than arguing over the relative merits of one approach over another, the goal should be to try as many things as possible to see what works best. What works best in one country may not work in another. There are no simple answers, there is no magic bullet.
Where I do applaud Sam and Langdon, from what I have seen of their trips to Vanuatu, what I have heard them say, and what I recognize as their determination and commitment to make it work is that they are taking personal responsibility for implementing their position; they are walking the walk, not just talking the talk. Mott Green (founder of the Grenada Chocolate Company) falls into that category, too. They are not handing off their responsibility to some third-party certification organization which has different business objectives. They are living their ethics, day in and day out.
In the long run, I think that's what's necessary - taking personal and/or corporate responsibility. Unfortunately that's expensive, so public companies, ever mindful of their share price, will never be allowed to do the right thing by stock market analysts who punish the share price if earnings are as little as a penny under expectations. They will always abdicate responsibility to NGOs and claim that they are doing the "right" thing. Not.
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