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How To Taste Chocolate - Lindt's Ann Czaja

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By Malcolm Jolley

Ann Czaja is a medical researcher who a few years ago decided to trade her lab coat for an apron and a toque. At the time, she was an American expat in Switzerland and it wasn't long before she was working for Lindt & Sprungli as one of their prestigious Maitre Chocolatier. Czaja is know based in the US and educates retailers, pastry chefs and the odd journalist on the finer points of chocolate.

On a recent snowy day in Toronto, Czaja led me through Lindt's five step chocolate process, promising that the simple routine outlined below would enhance any true chocolate experience. We tried Lindt's new 90% dark chocolate, which Czaja was in town to promote. The 90% meaning the percent of cocoa solids in the bar - the 10% being taken up with sugar, and a touch of soy lecithin, which is used as an emulsifier, or binding agent. The rules below are, generally speaking, for dark premium chocolate.

Ann Czaja's Five Steps To Enjoy Fine Chocolate

1. Look

Czaja says there should be a sheen to the chocolate: "There are a lot of ways to tell if it's premium chocolate. One way is to look at the ingredients on the package, but you can also tell just by looking at a piece of chocolate." Proper chocolate is tempered, she explains, and this process of gently heating and cooling gets rid of "streaking" from cocoa butter.

2. Touch

Cjaza says the chocolate should be "nice and smooth". The point is to ensure your chocolate has been stored improperly, in a high humidity area, for instance. Don't, she adds, store your chocolate in the fridge, where it might get "sugar bloom" from evaporating moisture. A better bet is your cupboard (room temperature, or a little lower and out of direct sunlight, but make sure it's not next to anything that may transfer aroma, like onions or garlic).

3. Listen

No, really. You want to listen for a "snap" when you break a piece of it. Czaja explains that, "bars with a higher cocoa content will give you that snap".

4. Smell

This reporter has to admit his piece smelled pretty much like chocolate, and not much else. Czaja laughed and said, that's ok: "Everybody says 'it smells like chocolate' at first! But if you practice you start to perceive wonderful earthy aromas and flavour notes." I am working on this daily.

5. Taste

I have to admit that at first I screwed this one up somewhat by chomping down on my piece of chocolate right away. This was not well received. Mind you all my over-exuberance meant was I got another piece to start again with, which wasn't so bad. Czaja was forgiving: "The big mistake people make with dark chocolate is they chew. Just break it, but don't chew. Let it melt in your mouth. If you chew it, it's too fast and you're going to release bitter components. Letting it melt on your tongue means the chocolate reveals itself in its own time and you're going to taste different things at the front of your mouth, as opposed the middle and the back because of your taste buds. The first thing you perceive is called 'the melt'. It should be smooth, never gritty or grainy." Czaja also says to beware of overly sweet chocolate, which indicates poor quality beans being masked with too much sugar. The better the quality of the chocolate the longer the finish or taste.

After my intense lesson, we tasted some more of the 90% with a Niagara ice wine - it worked as the sweeter wine enhanced the bitter chocolate and both mixed well, the wine offering a touch of acid to the chocolate's richness. Czaja suggested you could taste chocolate with anything, but always (like wine) taste from lightest to darkest. "Just have fun, " she advises. And the lady clearly keeps her own advice: we each took another piece and started the five steps again.


Very interesting piece Malcolm. I did not know any of this. Guess what I am going to start sharing this weekend at the dinner table?? Why...my new chocolate expertise, of course!
Post Reply By James in ETOBICOKE on 2/12/2009 9:53:04 PM

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