Friday, June 24, 2016

Books & Chocolate: Part 5

This is Part 5 (click here to read Part 4) of a piece that I wrote for my Food Writing class in college. I brought together two of my interests, books and chocolate of course, in pairings that explained the different types of things I enjoy out of each--distinct from statements of "better" or "worse." I've decided to post it in portions; here are the ninth and tenth pairings and the conclusion. Next week I will get back to regular blogging.

Just as it is necessary to have a favorite in the candy bar world, so must I also have one in the gourmet world. At the beginning of conversations about chocolate, people always ask me what my favorite kind is or which is the best. I don't like choosing favorites, but I must have an answer prepared for so inevitable a question. I have mentioned E. Guittard and Theo, but my usual default answer has become Amano. Amano is everything a chocolatier ought to be, with the added benefit of being another American company. As with Theo, everyone to whom I have introduced Amano chocolate has shared my interest. Amano is artistic expression and attention to detail. All Amano dark chocolate bars come in glossy, black card boxes with a rectangular space reserved for a piece of artwork. Always, this artwork matches the tone of the bar inside. The Montanya bar features a muddy-colored painting of a tree, like something out of a lost and recently remembered adventure. Turn to the back of the box for a note from chocolatier Art Pollard about the making of the bar and for a description of the Venezuela plantation where he sourced this particular bar's cacao. Not of the least interest are the tasting notes Amano always provides, apricot and marshmallow in Montanya's case. These tasting notes prove helpful in examining the chocolate.

People are usually surprised to learn how many flavor notes chocolate can have, and Amano crafts their chocolate to express these notes so well that one person I gave Amano to thought that it actually was flavored, not plain, chocolate. That fullness of flavor is the beauty of Amano. Further, all of their dark chocolate bars are a standard level of 70% cacao, meaning that there will be no frightening bitterness for the uninitiated. Marshmallow does not sound like a cultured flavor, but marshmallowy sweetness here means something entirely different than in Rocky Mountain's chocolate. It is sweet for a dark chocolate, but with its own kind of sweetness, a sweetness that only helps make the chocolate approachable.

As diverse as chocolate can be, books are probably more so. While Amano has a wide appeal, there is probably no book that matches Amano's appeal and critical acclaim. But that matters little: these are my personal pairings, which will never be the same for any two people, even if there may be some overlaps. My progression to name Charlotte Bronte as a favorite author was similar to my naming of Amano; when people ask this question, they certainly do not want to hear Stephenie Meyer's name and likely not even Tolkien's. But Charlotte Bronte I can talk about: even if a person has never read her, he is likely to have seen one of the many movie versions of Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre I speak of most often because Jane Eyre is all from Charlotte Bronte most people seem to talk about, as if, like her sister Emily, she had no other novels except the one. But that is okay for now: Jane Eyre I like. I read it for the first time in middle school and loved what a happy ending it had. Then, though I have never studied the book in a class, the world started throwing words into the discussion like "feminism," "fantasy," "Gothic," and "religious." At my own pace, I saw which words work and for what reasons; I analyzed something I had previously only enjoyed and thus enjoyed it the more. Now I delight that I will never be able to stop pondering meanings. If Jane Eyre were an Amano bar, it could be the Montanya, but might find a better pairing in the Cuyagua, which has feminine, fruity notes something like banana and also a pepperiness. Both are soft, vivid, and ultimately happy.

If there is a chocolate bar that made so much of an impression on me so long ago that I am wrong not to have tasted it since, it is the 100% Criollo bar from Pralus. It is fast approaching four years since my affair with this bar; four years ago, I had not tasted Amano, Theo, Kallari, and Valrhona, and had only just barely had my first Michel Cluizel chocolate. At this time of beginnings, the 100% offering from Pralus was completely new to me and I responded only with love and fervor. I have reason to believe, from the positive comments about Pralus I have since hears, that the bar truly is as wonderful as my memory of it, but how can I know for certain? All my evidence is in the comments I made four years ago. I know that the chocolate came first to my mouth with bitterness, but much unlike the Bonnet 100%, the bitterness faded into something cooler, sweeter, and even fresher. Instead of stopping at one or two pieces, I had four small squares, identifying their primary taste as chocolate. I wonder now if, today, I would pick up more flavor notes. But I may not have been wrong in this assessment, anyway: the Criollo beans, usually considered the best variety of cacao beans, from which this bar is made are fairly delicate in flavor and do produce the flavor we generally call "chocolate." The difference in the type of cacao beans alone may explain why I hated the one bar and loved the other.

Love. That is the identifier that can supposedly detect whether someone has read Wuthering Heights or just watched the movie: supposedly, they will sigh over the love story only in the latter case. I consider the situation more complicated. There is a love story to find even in the intensity of the Pralus bar, as there is in Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte's complicated Victorian novel. I certainly found it in both, though both were, respectively, my first 100% bar and a book I first read at the fairly young age of twelve. Love is an easier emotion to latch onto. I did not dwell on the initial bitterness of the chocolate, and I took the dark, Gothic elements and waves of hatred and blackness in the novel simply in stride. I let the story and the characters entertain me until I was capable, when I studied the book in college, to consider such things as symbols and analogies within the pages. This is why I wish for the chance to revisit the chocolate: I know I would bring more to the experience now, and how much better must it then be if it was so wonderful then?

Well, if I see one at a store, I will surely snatch it up instantly--and maybe someday, since I hardly expect this sighting to happen, I will purchase one online. Until then, the memory sustains me. It is the memory of the embodiment of the heart of the passion of the thing we call chocolate. It is chocolate at a full point in consciousness. And it is only through acknowledging all of the things that I love, all of the manifestations, however loose, of chocolate, that I can call even a single experience like this a positive one. Like the first long book I read or the first book I liked in defiance of critical commentary, any chocolate I eat becomes a brick that helps build my house of understanding and any that I enjoy becomes a part of a long chain of lovingly esteemed links.

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