Flavour is a complex and strange thing. The way people perceive it is ultimately so personal. One person’s ‘straw’ might be another’s ‘grass.’
Some people are particularly good at tasting. I remember doing a test in which I had to identify smells from essences on balls of cotton wool in test tubes. Without the physical ingredient it was surprisingly hard. And then there is the matter of preference - the Marmite factor.
Wine experts merrily describe layers of flavour in microscopic detail. I don’t take that approach with chocolate. This is not because chocolate is any less complex. There are in fact more than 400 identified flavours in cacao.
On my Flavour Map you will find all the major categories, but I have deliberately not made a complete list of the types within them – it is a map to help you find your own way.
When you are tasting a chocolate if you have these categories in mind it will help direct your taste in the right direction. At its simplest you can think of the nutty side of the wheel and the fruity side.
This month we are exploring the vibrant world of citrus, in fruits, in herbs and of course in the chocolate.
The single estate dark chocolates in this collection are on the fruity side but are all very different. San Agustin 70 has honey, nutty notes with just glimpses of red fruits. The Sambirano 71 is the closest to citrus, it really is quite zesty. While the fine Criollo Chulucanas 70 has much softer notes of raisins and plums. Isn’t cacao wonderful?
Maybe have a little break to allow your taste buds to reset, before tasting the flavoured dark bars. Raisin Hazelnut 100% is particularly unusual because I haven’t added any sugar. All the sweetness comes simply from the fruit and nuts. Luscious Orange takes me straight to the Mediterranean. The honey notes in the cacao pair perfectly with the orange. It’s the taste of sunshine.
Finally we come to the milk chocolates. All the ones this time are made with the Rio Caribe bean. Milk of the Gods is an absolute classic. Close your eyes and think of chocolate and this is what you get. The little crunches of salt in Sea Flakes add a little magic and with Passion Fruit we are back to the tart, zesty citrus theme.
Did you know that all citrus fruits are hybrids of three original species? Pomelo, mandarin orange and citron. They have evolved on a spectrum of sweet (eg mandarin)to sour (eg white grapefruit). It is their sourness that makes their flavours carry so perfectly in chocolate. When citrus notes appear in other things like chocolate and herbs, they are one of many layers of flavour, but no less citrusy for that.
Here are my handmade chocolates of the month….
Clementine almond. Rio Caribe 44 milk chocolate, clementine & almond
More honey-sweet than an orange, clementines dance a beautiful Mediterranean dance with almonds. They don’t have the intensity to cut through dark chocolate, but in Rio Caribe 44 milk chocolate they are sublime. Pure ingredients. Pure pleasure.
Lemon Verbena Blanca. White chocolate with sour cherries, lemon verbena & chia
Lemon verbena with its gentle aromatic lemon notes deserves a much larger place in the culinary world. Here it creates the perfect stage for the sour cherries and chia, performing an elegant dance with the honey notes in the cacao.