Floral Creams – to love or hate?

I know a lot of people have either a love or hate relationship with floral flavours – rose, violet, lavender and geranium –  these flavours seem to represent a collective niche of individuals who buy chocolate as they are ‘someone’s particular favourite’ or they bring back a nostalgic childhood memory. ‘Oh, these remind me of spending weekends at my grandparents years ago when I was little’.

I hear this sentiment expressed by a lot by people who are looking to buy chocolate. They are influenced by happy memories and of course chocolate can be the master of creating emotive feeling! Nothing can ensare the senses more. My grandfather would often give me either a pound or a piece of chocolate secretly if I was standing behind him and I used to love the surprise gesture! Nobody else knew he had given me chocolate (I wasn’t allowed any in case it spoiled my dinner) but the day had become a little brighter!

It is funny the things you remember. That is one of clearest and happiest memories of my grandfather and still today….I love violet creams! For some, they are a little too sweet and sugary but for me, the mere smell of them makes me happy. Perhaps we all associate something positive with the food we enjoy eating….a memory of a feeling maybe when we first tried something. Taste and smell can take you back years.

The traditional English Creams are maybe not everyone’s cup of tea but there is something comforting for me about trying one from time to time. It is just a simple fondant centre with essential oil, nothing complex but within that simplicity comes an appreciation of traditional and perhaps more conservative taste. Not a bad thing overall but as always, it is important to try new things.

Preserving tradition without innovation and experimentation only instills a sense of unoriginality and stifles creativity. Both must exist in equilibrium. As much as we love the things we do, we must make room to explore new ideas and tastes. Favourites will always be favourites but until you try something else, nothing else has the potential to be a favourite. What we relate to changes over time. Lets try something new!

What is your favourite chocolate and why and most importantly, what would you love to try?

 

What’s so good about Grenadian Chocolate? (Everything!)

Grenada 60% Nibilicious

Now – I am a great believer in trying new (and good) things. When you end up absolutely loving something, the tendency is to keep buying the same bar of chocolate over and over again. Who doesn’t have their favourite preference? My guilty pleasure is rose in milk chocolate. I only allow myself to have it when I feel I really deserve it (or if it is pouring with rain outside and I want to feel better).

I have to say that Grenada Chocolate bars are fast becoming some of my number one choice if I want to have some dark chocolate. If you were familiar with my last post, I talked a bit about the late Mott Green and how he founded the Grenada Chocolate Company which is a bean to bar operation. The profits generated from making the chocolate go back to the people who produce it.

If you have never tried the Grenada 60% Nibilicious bar, I would urge you to do so. I think what I love so much about it is that there is a great variety of flavour and texture here. Within this bar, the entire process of making chocolate is encapsulated. We have the nibs combined with what would be finished product after the nibs have been ground and conched – (of course then, after a few more steps we have – chocolate as the end product!) The crunchy nibs combined with the rich and fruity floral notes ensures the palate detects every nuance of flavour found in the bean which is precisely what I love about this bar. Crunchy, fruity and incredibly moreish, this is high up on my list. There’s just so much going on!

Grenada 100%

Of course, the Grenada 100% is a  popular bar with so many people (my husband included) who could eat it in abundance and without guilt ( if I let him!) Within a tiny square, you have to brace your palate as there is going to be what I would call a firework display of taste. It is like having the chocolate equivalent of a double espresso. When someone said, ‘You have to try this’, I thought to myself – ‘Sure, OK. I mean I’m pretty safe, there’s no sugar after all. It’s not like I will really enjoy this and become addicted or anything.’

Famous last words of course!

I didn’t really think I would enjoy it. Biggest mistake ever. I love it. This is a bar which is bursting with the natural flavours of the bean. What a fool I was to believe that I needed sugar to make it taste palatable. (This is coming from someone who growing up always needed to have a massive dollop of ketchup on her plate). Of course, saying that, this bar is very intense and not everyone’s cup of tea. What I would say is if you could allow your palate to recover from the initial shock and allow yourself to really explore the taste, you will not be disappointed. Sharp, tangy and bursting with rich floral notes, this is a bar that allows you to discover Grenadian chocolate in all its natural glory.

Stay tuned for more reviews coming soon!

© Christina McDonald 2014.

 

Not a morning person? A piece of dark chocolate might do the trick…

Alarm clock goes off. You feel instantly startled, fumbling with your eyes still half-closed searching for the ‘off’ button wondering what the urgent problem is until you realise ‘oh yes, time to get up..again.’ Another week is here. Not long after, I start craving something to banish the Monday morning blues. I thought it would be good to try an experiment. Instead of having a cup of coffee every morning before I go to work, I am going to have a piece of dark chocolate instead.

Apart from wanting to feel human again, you also want to feel naturally uplifted and happy if your mood is otherwise. The stimulant called ‘theobromine’ which can be considered as one of the ‘feel good’ effects of eating chocolate, can give you a boost not unlike the effects of caffeine. I’m not sure there will that much of a difference as far as feeling that happy buzz is concerned if I’m honest. I would like to see if I actually really do need that cup of coffee in the morning or if I could substitute it for dark chocolate instead without too much effort.

Addict that I am.

How do you feel when you eat a piece of chocolate? For me, I feel instantly relaxed. The entire experience begins visually and then, if I smell the chocolate before eating it, I feel as though I am already experiencing the benefits. When I am at work, just inhaling the aroma of the chocolates is intoxicating in itself and I find myself craving chocolate yet again. Strangely enough, it seems to be the dark chocolate I crave more through the aroma.

I often find myself desiring a piece of milk chocolate but it is the dark chocolate I find myself craving more these days. There are many different nuances of flavour simply found within the aroma of chocolate and it can in fact influence the entire perception and interpretation of the actual taste. There is no doubt about it. The very thought of eating a piece of chocolate does not exist in isolation on its own. How it looks, how it is presented, the aroma, etc. is just stage one of the process.

The memory of how good a piece of chocolate is that we had previously can trigger a positive reaction to future experiences. What we expect to feel and what we actually end up feeling may be of a mutual influence when it comes to tasting the food we eat and even more so when it comes to chocolate I would imagine.

Perhaps imagination is the key here. From the early creative stages of making a chocolate bar or a truffle and to how we interpret the taste and flavour, you could say that it is a work of art unfolding constantly and in a multitude of different ways. Similar to looking at a picture in an art gallery, we are all going to feel and experience something completely different to each other based to an extent on the sum of our own experiences.

And that is what makes it so fascinating.

© Christina McDonald 2014.

When it comes to Chocolate – what do you prefer?

This is a tricky one. Dark or milk? What are you in the mood for? Being an absolute addict, I tend not to discriminate between the two. I am a fan of both. I think as time progresses, I am leaning towards enjoying dark chocolate more. I never thought I would enjoy it but my palate has been educated thoroughly over the years. As far as tasting dark chocolate is concerned, I have learned to detect a wide variety of subtle flavours. Is it earthy, fruity or acidic? Is it sweet or sour? Is it floral or nutty? You would be quite surprised at what you can detect when you actually allow yourself to taste chocolate instead of swallowing it in one go (which I still do sometimes if I am enthusiastic enough or I have skipped a meal!)

Milk chocolate is something that I am learning not to crave so much, the simple reason being that when I start eating it, I cannot stop until the whole bar has been demolished. With a square if dark chocolate, I find that I actually enjoy and savour it so much more as for some reason, I can experience a variety of different flavour notes. This is not the case when it comes to tasting milk chocolate for me. I find the sweetness overrides the majority of the taste. Chocolate actually has well over 300 flavour notes which is even more than wine surprisingly! It is hard to believe but apparently, this is true. This would be attributed to many factors such as the kind of beans used to make the chocolate in question, how long fermentation and drying in the initial stages have affected the quality and taste of the bean, the conching time and even how it has been tempered influences the final product.

Badly tempered chocolate loses that brilliant sheen, it doesn’t have an audible ‘snap’ when you break it in two and it can bloom (which is when moisture causes the sugar in the chocolate to crystalise giving it a greyish, dusty pallor). The chocolate will still taste fine regardless. Throughout the different stages of making chocolate, whether it is from the starting point of roasting and drying the beans or in the final stages when it is being tempered, every step of the process will influence the taste. As far as taste is concerned, the natural flavours of the bean are susceptible to the entire chocolate making process and an experienced chocolatier will know how to bring the best out of the beans they have.

When you consider the cacao tree and how difficult it is cultivate, (it needs a very humid environment and only grows in the tropics with the right amount of moisture all year round), it is a wonder how we can sustain the world of cocoa production when you consider how intricate the process from bean to bar is – the threat of disease, volatile and unpredictable changes in climate and not forgetting economic and political factors, all of which can drive market prices soaring. When you eat a piece of chocolate, don’t just focus on the flavour but allow yourself to consider the journey that has transformed cocoa beans into the finished product – and what a journey it is!

© Christina McDonald 2014

Tasting Chocolate….

Which do you prefer, milk or dark chocolate? That is a hard question sometimes and for me it can change daily (sometimes hourly working in a chocolate shop!)

I am learning to appreciate dark chocolate more than ever before. Firstly, I do not seem to crave dark chocolate as much as I would do milk. The sweetness has become too much for me now and when I start eating it, I cannot seem to stop. It is a mistake to for me to buy a bar of milk chocolate – it will be gone in 45 minutes! Some people love a very high percentage and some people prefer something around the 65% mark. I draw the limit at 70%. Anything higher and I feel I am chewing and swallowing quickly to get rid of the intense taste. Anything past 80% is an acquired taste for me.

I remember trying 100% – it was quite an experience! The chocolate equivalent of double espresso. When you surpass the initial ‘shock’ to your palate, you can actually experience quite a wide range colourful taste sensations. Fruity notes, tangy, acidic, bitter, citrus, earthy, smoky, peaty…there are many ways to describe the experience and the beauty is…your experience will be completely unique to you.

How would you describe it?

So – where does the most comfortable percentage of cocoa lie for you? Between 60 and 70% is a good range for me. Flavoured chocolate which is around 65% seems to allow my taste buds to experience varying and more subtle flavours which can sometimes be lost in a higher percentage of cocoa. The natural taste of the bean comes through tremendously so without any other flavours added – sometimes additional flavours (such as rose, violet, cinnamon etc.) can enhance the taste of the chocolate and complement the variety of flavour notes found within the bar.

What we are tasting when we eat chocolate does depend on many factors of influence. The way the bean has been treated has a great impact on how the chocolate will eventually taste. The natural flavour of the bean will also be susceptible to the fermenting, drying and roasting process, the length of conching and of course, how the chocolate is tempered will all have an effect on the taste of the finished product.

Making good chocolate is a highly skilled craft requiring experience and precision. Selecting the beans is just the start of the process of discovering the many different colours and layers of taste. Knowing how to extract the best qualities of the bean through the chocolate making process is the key.

The entire process is dependent on so many variables – for instance, the climate conditions can influence how poor or successful a harvest is. When you actually take a moment to think about where good food comes from, we can truly appreciate the journey it has been on from origin to the finished product. From my brief experience working in the industry, making chocolate is a very creative and innovative journey. There seems to be no limits as to what you can achieve with the right amount of skill and application.

It’s another world. Magical, creative and sensual…what more do we want?

Christina McDonald 2014.

The seductive and magical world of chocolate….

I could really eat a bar of chocolate right now. One thing is for sure – I’ve always loved chocolate. That hasn’t changed much over the years (unlike my waistline!) What has changed is my level of appreciation for good, high quality chocolate. When I first tasted dark chocolate that had been properly made, I was surprised at how I didn’t react much initially. I thought I knew what chocolate was having grown up with it in massive abundance through parental bribery. It was great – lovely in fact! So smooth, creamy and rich. To me, it was still just ‘chocolate’. Gorgeous, amazingly addictive, chocolate.

Why was it so good?

I’ve worked in the chocolate industry and luxury retail now for just over two years. I still remember my very first day at work in a chocolate shop. I was like a kid let lose. After I had the (very difficult task) of trying and sampling the many different and overwhelming varietes of chocolate, I hadn’t yet realised that my palate had become accustomed to other taste sensations that were not obscured by sugar. Walking home from work I thought I should buy a Cadbury’s fruit and nut bar (you know, for old time’s sake)…I felt sick eating it…all I could taste was sugar and fat.

Yes, I have been utterly spoiled!

Good chocolate needs only a select handful of ingredients. They are cocoa butter, cocoa solids, sugar and soya lecithin. If you look at the label of a chocolate bar, you should really only see these components. Everything else is junk. Not needed. I felt as though I was becoming more familiar with what I was actually eating instead of simply just buying something I ‘thought’ I liked. The truth was – I didn’t actually know the difference between what was good quality and what was bad quality chocolate. If we haven’t tried it, we cannot know!

Dark chocolate is especially good for you. Full of antioxidants. Various studies have shown it may be very good for the heart and lowering blood pressure to name but a few benefits. With all of this, it would be foolish to deny ourselves the pleasure of eating chocolate now and again. Not only does dark chocolate have some excellent health benefits, but it also helps to lift the mood too. There are certain chemical compounds within dark chocolate that can boost our serotonin levels. Not too shabby….

I love working with a product that can inspire the imagaination in such a way – even as grown adults, we cannot fail to be seduced by the simple wonder that is chocolate. So much to try, so much to taste…so much to experience in a world where we can allow ourselves to feel a little magic again….

© Christina McDonald 2014.