Seminar: Chocolate

The program consists of two 8-hour kitchen classes and one 3-hour seminar each week. (Last week we didn’t have the seminar, just the kitchen classes.) The first seminar is chocolate. I think that means I’m in the right program.

Kerstin McGaughey gave the lecture. She has a degree in gastronomy from Boston University. Her two areas of specialty are chocolate and coffee, so she’s a woman after my own heart. Kerstin came equipped with a deck of slides and a bunch of chocolate for us to taste.

Chocolate grows all around the world but only near the equator. Chocolate is grown in India; who knew? Chocolate comes from the New World, but today most of the world’s chocolate is grown in Africa. Conversely, sugar cane is an Asian crop that was brought to the New World, where most of the world’s sugar cane is grown today; Brazil grows more than half the world’s sugar cane (India produces just over half what Brazil does). So the ancient Aztecs and Mayans had chocolate but no sugar; when they sweetened their chocolate, they used mashed corn (maize).

Cacao has three cultivars. Criollo is the cultivar from Central America. It produces seeds with a mellow flavor because the fat content is relatively high. Unfortunately, the trees take years to mature to the point where they produce seed pods, they don’t produce many pods, and the pods each contain a couple dozen seeds. Forestero is the cultivar from South America. The seeds contain less fat than criollo seeds, so the flavor is somewhat bitter. However, the trees mature faster and produce more pods, and the pods produce more seeds. Life is like that. The solution, of course, is to cross the two: The cross is trinitario, which originated in Trinidad. The trees mature faster than criollo trees and the trees produce more pods. The pods produce more seeds with less fat than criollo but more fat than trinitario. About 80% of chocolate production is forestero; criollo and trinitario account for about 10% each.

Harvesting and initial production are done by hand. I imagine if the farmers were paid adequately, chocolate would be very expensive. The pods are picked by hand, they’re whacked open by hand—well, by machete—and the seeds are scooped out by hand and dried on screens. After that, they’re shipped to chocolate producers, like Hershey and Nestlé, and the process becomes very mechanical. First the beans are roasted, and this is the tricky bit because seconds can make the difference between perfectly roasted beans and burned beans. Then the beans are ground (which takes maybe an hour). The next step, conching, aerates the beans and removes moisture, which makes the chocolate very smooth. This takes several days. Rodolphe Lindt invented this, and his conched chocolate was the first chocolate that could be made into bars. Before that, chocolate was ground, mixed with hot water or milk, and drunk.

Kerstin gave us some chocolate to taste. First we tasted white chocolate, milk chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, and unsweetened chocolate. Then we tasted several kinds of 65% chocolate (bittersweet, more or less). One of the trends is bean-to-bar chocolate made by small companies. Right here in Somerville, Massachusetts, is Taza, which stone grinds the beans. Other small companies produce interesting varieties, such as Mast Brothers‘ fleur de sel or Dagoba‘s chile, both of which we tried. I liked them, but I still like really good plain chocolate best.

The last thing we talked about was terroir, or how the place of origin affects the taste. Kerstin says some people really can taste differences in chocolate (or other food) that comes from the same cultivar grown in different locations. Single-origin chocolate is a new trend. Some companies produce single-origin bars and label them with the location of the chocolate’s origin. L.A. Burdick has a line of these. Unfortunately, the single-source bars usually aren’t labeled with the cultivar, so you have to do your own research and figure it out. Guittard has a line of single-origin bars, and they tell you not only the source location but also the cultivar.

About linguina

For most of my life I've loved to read and to make stuff. My mother says I taught myself to read when I was 4, and I never looked back. I also liked fooling around in the kitchen, but my mother wasn't really into cooking, so I learned a lot of that on my own, too. My sister and I had the Betty Crocker New Boys and Girls Cookbook (1965), and naturally I had to make the Enchanted Castle Cake. I learned how to bake bread when I was 14, and I bought a copy of the Joy of Cooking when I was 17. My aunt and uncle gave me Mastering the Art of French Cooking for my 19th birthday, and the first thing I made was soufflé. I've always been more of a baker than a cook, though. When our niece used to visit us during her breaks from college, she'd get me to show her some cooking things (including soufflé, of course!), but I kept having to tell her, "This is just how I do it. I have no idea if it's the right way." Finally, I took a basic cooking class, and that changed my life. After that class, I signed up for a 4-day baking class at King Arthur Flour. That's when I knew I was really a baker. Now I'm taking the professional pastry program at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. With this training, I'll become a pastry chef.
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