Author: Mark Swain
Like most British chocolate lovers, I started out on traditional national staples – Cadburys Dairy Milk, Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut, Milky Bars etc. I couldn’t get enough of them back in the early 1960′s. Gradually though, they started to slightly miss the spot. Was it that they were too fatty and clogged in the mouth / throat? Was it the cup and a half of sugar in every bar? I’m sure both helped to turn me off as I matured.
One day I sampled a square of the Cadburys Bournville plain chocolate my mother kept to herself and felt I’d discovered something more satisfying but in time that too, along with Creme Eggs, Toblerone etc proved too much. There just wasn’t enough of the vital ingredient. Incidentally the EU a few years ago tried to get Cadburys chocolate decalcified as real chocolate on the basis of not having enough cocoa in it. Chocolate flavoured vegetable fat bar is what they said it should be called.
By the 1970′s I was a teenager and increasingly found myself in need of the hard stuff. It was a tough time. The other day, an elderly friend reminded me of a time in 1976 when I was in Sainsbury’s shopping with her. We were in the checkout queue and she noticed I was shaking badly and wringing my hands.
“What on earth’s the matter with you, dear?” she had said. She’s a Scott.
Apparently I replied that I was desperate for chocolate and was struggling with the array of confectionary on display under my nose. I had to resist, I said, since although I wanted it, I knew if I ate it I’d feel sick afterwards (rather like chip-shop fish and chips).
My friend had felt most worried about me. The following day, having given the matter some expert thought, she arrived at my house with several bars of high quality Swiss chocolate – Suchard, Lindt, Favarger, Laderach and Sprungli, if I remember correctly. It was a revelation. A series of delightful little explosions in my brain. It was as if someone had enabled me to mainline the active ingredient. How did the Swiss manage this, I wondered?
Of course, as my life progressed and I reached middle-age, I refined my taste and learned to differentiate. It was in my late 40′s I think, that I began to realise that in the main it was all about cocoa solids. Anything less than 70% was not going to cut it. It would sit in the fridge awaiting the visit of a less discerning friend – often until it went white with bloom. Of course I learned that not all 70% chocolate was good. Cooking chocolate is often 70% cocoa solids and can be harsh. The quality of the beans, the fat and sugar need to be right. But what I have noticed in myself, is a gradual progression over time. Once Lindt started producing 85% CS, I couldn’t eat 70% without balking. Now I only eat Lindt 90%. This, for me, is the absolute zenith of all chocolate. Pure, unadulterated chocolate, with all the subtle trace elements discernible on the pallet – natural floral notes, faint hints of liquorice, herbs and vanilla. The only bearable addition to this orally orgasmic experience is intermittent sips of single malt whisky. Absolute explosive ecstasy!
As a post script to this chocolate love story, I would just say that there is a ‘so far and no further’ thing with cocoa solids. You do need a little fat and sugar to make it work – to bring out the flavours. For those of you who have ever seen Lindt’s 99% cocoa solid chocolate in a shop; a word of warning. Reserve its use for cakes, mouses, sauces etc. Just 9% extra cocoa and the whole ecstatic experience comes crashing down. With that extra 9% comes a powdery consistency and a loss of flora. Somehow those beautiful, subtle trace elements are masked and the whole experience becomes akin to eating garden earth (I know, I ate that as a kid too). But at 90% with a glass of pure Port Cask Glenmorangie or Talisker from the Isle of Skye, you have absolute perfection.