Last week a colony of chocolate lovers gathered in the private room at Voila Chocolat for a very special Underground Chocolate Salon.
I’ve always been jealous of Paris in the 1920s, when artistic and literary luminaries gathered at Gertrude Stein’s house to talk and hang out: Picasso, Cézanne, Joyce, Eliot, Cocteau. Only one thing would have made it better: chocolate. That’s why I started what I’m calling the Underground Chocolate Salon, for like-minded (or not so like-minded) people to get together and talk chocolate, as well as enjoy one another’s company.
This was a different sort of salon, because I’m trying out a new format. Rather than leading a guided tasting, I set up three different tasting areas with lots of goodies. (Of course, I ended up talking for most of the time, but in the future I’d like to change this. Send me ideas if you have ‘em.)
One table featured Wilbur Buds, a gift from the folks in Lititz, PA, from when I visited on my book tour. Legend has it that these bites of dark and milk chocolate predate the Hershey kiss — and that when Milton Hershey visited Wilbur Chocolate, he had a Eureka moment. He created chocolate bites that looked similar, added a few other fats and ingredients to keep them from melting naturally, and packaged them individually. Behold, the birth of the Hershey kiss!
The other two tables featured the exact opposite of this industrial chocolate: On one, three types of Mestico Chocolate from Brazil interested (and in some cases, confused) our taste buds. In general we tasted a strong roast and a little bit of fruitiness, but possibly some Brazilian funk as well. Read my recent story about the trials and tribulations of Brazilian cacao here.
And then we had a table with Dandelion’s new Sierra Leone bar and Ara Chocolate’s Tolita, Colombia, bar. The color difference between the two staggered us: Ara’s bar looked as light as milk chocolate while Dandelion’s was the darkest brown. (Check it out at the top of this post!) Both makers most likely roasted the beans lightly, so in this case we were really noticing the difference between the cocoa beans. The tastes were opposite as well: Ara’s Tolita bar tasted like tropical fruit while Dandelion’s Sierra Leone bar tasted like fudge fudge fudge.
The Sierra Leone bar is especially worth noting because it’s the first bar made with these beans, sourced with the help of Professor Kristy Leissle and Meridian Cacao. I hope that now more American makers will venture beyond Tanzania in terms of using African beans.
Then Voila chef Christophe Toury showed us how he’s been making chocolate from scratch — Crankenstein, blow dryer, and all. We tried three of his bars, and my favorite by far was the single-origin Peru, which had a distinct raisin and prune fruitiness that differed from other single-origin Peruvian chocolates I’ve tasted.
The evening ended with a cup of hot Ruby chocolate, thanks to the packaged mix I picked up in London from Fortnum & Mason. It was a treat to try this ahead of the U.S. launch, though I’m still convinced Ruby chocolate is all marketing. It tasted super sweet and milky (since it was made with milk, obviously), with a stronger note of raspberries than cocoa. “Would you call this chocolate?” Chef Christophe asked me. What do you think?
The Underground Chocolate Salon will not be held at regular intervals, but if you’d like to put your name in the lottery to attend, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about the best chocolate you’ve ever tasted.