Like it or not, the holiday season is fast approaching. To many, this means the joy of being surrounded by friends and family, be it for a Thanksgiving feast or for a carol-singing session around the Christmas tree. One thing is for certain, though: the season is full of opportunities to entertain. Hot cocoa and cookies is still a great traditional way to placate the grandkids (and we do have some delicious hot cocoa, if you’re so inclined,) but if you’re looking to become the host that everyone is talking about this season, read on.
For the true foodies out there, chocolate is more than just a delicious confection. Sure, it comes with health benefits, but it also comes packed with a variety of different tones and flavors that can be parsed and paired with everything from beer and wine to cheese. To impress your guests, host a chocolate tasting or pairing party. Here’s what to do:
First, you’ll want to make sure to learn how to taste chocolate. As tempting as it is just to eat it, to truly gain an understanding of all of the varieties of flavor in each different chocolate, you will want to make sure you involve all of your senses in the process. Here’s what we suggest you look for when tasting chocolate. And if you want to know how we do it, read our notes on our Sensory Panel.
To host a chocolate tasting party in the purest form, try looking at our single source bars. The beans in these bars come from just one location, so the flavors vary tremendously. You always want to start with the lightest chocolate first, so:
- Start with our 54% Dark Chocolate. This isn’t a single source – it’s a combination of beans from Ghana, Sao Thome (an island off of the west coast of Africa,) and Tanzania – but it’s a great place to get your chocolate bearings, since this is the dark chocolate we use most frequently to make our truffles and other treats. Try and think about all of the flavors involved. What do you taste under the “chocolate” flavor?
- Move on to our Sao Thome. This should taste quite different from the 54%, and not just because it is a little more bitter due to the higher cocoa percentage. Can you discern some earthy flavors? Maybe a slight hint of vanilla? Some people even taste a bit of olive.
- Next try our Peru. This is the same cacao percentage as the Sao Thome, but the beans come from the other side of the world. Can you taste the difference? It is much creamier, and has much fruitier tones than the Sao Thome. Can you taste a slightly unripe banana? There are also some nice floral tones in there. One thing to note about our Peru, is that, unlike most of our chocolate, which is made with about 20% cocoa butter, our Peru has 40% cocoa butter, making it deliciously smooth and creamy.
- Now taste our Tanzania. This is a 75%, so it’s a little higher in cocoa than the last two you tried, but again, for something so close in cocoa content, it tastes surprisingly different. How does this compare to the Peru and Sao Thome? What types of flavors can you pick out? Perhaps a ripe banana? We use this one to make our delicious fudge sauce (available only in our retail stores) because the fruity tones blend deliciously with ice cream.
- As a penultimate step, move on to the African blend. At 80%, this is the highest cocoa content chocolate we produce. It is made from the same blend as the 54% (Ghana, Sao Thome and Tanzania). How does this compare to the others? What can you taste?
- And finally, we have worked our way through higher and higher cocoa percentages so now go back and try one more bite of the 54%. Has the taste changed from what you originally perceived? Are you surprised?
Of course, doing an entire tasting like this means two things: first, that, by the end, unless you take very small bites of each (which I suggest you do!) you’ll most likely have had enough chocolate to last you the rest of the evening. Second, you will also realize quite quickly that it is important to have water on hand, if only to cleanse the palate a little.
If you’re looking to do a pairing, though, alcohol is also a great way to refresh your palate. The natural acidity, particularly in beer, will help rid your mouth of some of the fat residue left from the chocolate. To find beer and wine that pair nicely with chocolate, use the flavors you discerned in the chocolates to find drinks with similar or complementary tones. Here’s what we came up with when we hosted a party.
We also have a history of pairing our chocolates with beer. Look through what we’ve done in the past here.
Finally, why not progress a little further, and involve another Vermont specialty: cheese? You can find some of our pairing suggestions for chocolate and cheese here.
Have you thought of a good chocolate pairing, or discovered an interesting flavor in one of our chocolates? Post your ideas for a chocolate pairing on our Facebook Page