Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Resolution: Eat More Chocolate in 2006

Here it is January, month of resolutions, exercise and diets. Since Lee's doctor is already basically prescribing that he eat chocolate on a daily basis, let's take a closer look at a couple possibilities, for health purposes, of course.

Unlike wine with so many types of grapes, varietals, regions and vintages to contend with, when it comes to chocolate there are only three types of beans--criollo, forastero and trinitario. Criollo is considered the best bean around and is very hard to grow, it constitutes perhaps as little as 5% of the world's chocolate. Forastero is a hardier cacao than criollo and is the most common type of bean coming mainly from Africa. Trinitario is a hybrid of criollo and forastero. Most chocolates are a blend of different beans.

Within each of the beans are varietals of course. And like wines there are single origin or estate chocolates. As with wines, tasting is the true path to understanding. I suggest starting out with one of my favorite bars, the Ocumare from Chocovic in Spain. Many people don't know that while chocolate is a new world ingredient, it has an illustrious history in Spain. The Ocumare bar is 71% cocoa and made from Venezuelan criollo beans. Incidentally one of my favorite filled chocolates brands, Richart, is also made from only Venezuelan criollo beans.

The other chocolate bar to try, if you can find it, is the El Carmen from Venezuela made with 75% cacao. Though I contacted the maker, Scharffen Berger I can't be sure which beans were used, only that the beans were sourced from a single valley in Barlovento, Venezuela and are pesticide-free. This is a limited edition bar so get it while you can. It is already gone from Scharffen Berger's site but available online.

Tasting notes:

* Good quality chocolate should be smooth and have a high gloss
* Notice the crisp snap which indicates it has been well-tempered
* Allow the chocolate to melt in your mouth to let the flavors fully develop

With these high percentage cacao bars, a little satisfies both your tastebuds and your doctor. Like fine wine, enjoy in moderation!

Ocumare from Chocovic, available at Trader Joe's for $1.99, 2.82 ounces
(available online for $3.95 )
Mildly spicy cinnamon, tropical fruit and woodsy tones. It has a mellow buttery finish and wonderfully creamy texture.

El Carmen Scharffen Berger, available at William Cross Wine Merchants, $3.99, 3 ounces
(available online for $6.25 )
Deep rich fruity flavors, plum and cherry tones. It is slightly tannic and dry with a creamy finish.