Once again, I feel it necessary to stray from food and talk a little about that top space on the food guide pyramid.
Chocolate come from cacao beans—another bean that has to be imported from the far reaches of this planet to be processed and made into either Hershey’s milk chocolate on one end—with only about 11 percent being made of pure cacao—or on the other side of the spectrum a dark 85 percent cacao bean bar from Lindt.
Just like coffee, chocolate is best served up dark–brutally dark. Milk chocolate is mostly milk and sugar so if you want to try something that is really the essences of the cacao bean, it has to be dark. In terms of percentage of cacao, I go for the 70’s, 80’s and above for mine. A good dark chocolate won’t be unpalatably bitter. Start at a classic dark, usually 54 percent and work your way up as high as you can go.
The aforementioned Lindt line, called Excellence, is a great example of a very dark chocolate that isn’t overwhelming in any dimension but endlessly complex and delicious. You’ll find those in the chocolate isle at the grocery store. My mother even credits 85 percent chocolate bars for helping her lose weight!
Chocolate, along with coffee and wine make for great pairings with all sorts of foods and drink. A deep red wine and a dark chocolate, perhaps with raspberries will hit the palate in a combination of flavors and textures like acupuncture for the tongue.
When we conjure up images of chocolate, what usually comes to mind is a sweet, fun, childish candy to be eaten to the point of stomachache. We think of chocolate bars, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake with chocolate icing, or chocolate milk but the uses for cocoa powder—the refined version of the cacao bean without the part which is fat or cocoa butter—spread well beyond traditional sweets.
Next time you make tacos or black beans with spicy foods, add a generous portion of cocoa powder. It will give dishes especially beef but really anything spicy or Mexican a little more complexity. Mole sauce anyone? Cincinnati chili is made with cocoa powder as one of the primary ingredients.
“Okay I’m convinced. Chocolate is something special. What do you recommend, David? What’s the next step? Where do I go? You’re so handsome.”
Your first stop has to be For the Love of Chocolate in the heart of Carytown in the shops at Cary Court. My former employer, as a matter of fact, For the Love of Chocolate stocks the shelves to the ceiling and beyond with anything chocolate or candy related.
Whether you’re looking for a serious chocolate bar with a high cacao percentage or a rare fair trade African chocolate mixed with hot peppers or even if you just want something fun and sweet that will make your kids hyper so they will pass out, For the Love of Chocolate has you covered. The staff is knowledgeable and will point you in the right direction. Mention my name and you might get a discount!
How about a local business that actually makes chocolate? Gearharts Chocolate in the near west end at Libbie and Grove makes upscale designer chocolates. Originally from Charlottesville, Gearharts uses fine Venezuelan cacao and has been rated one of the “Top 20 Artisan Chocolatiers” by Chocolatiers Magazine. I can’t say that I’ve visited Gearharts but I will soon.
Again, Richmond holds her own for selection at For the Love of Chocolate and even offers something uniquely Virginian with Gearharts. So get into some real dark chocolates. Understand and appreciate the complexity and properties of this second rare, bitter bean that you only think you know so well.