I spent eight hours in chocolate school last month. Chocolate isn’t a huge passion of mine, though I love a good, dark bar (and I can make one last a week if I hide it from Teen Freud and Mr. Petrol Head).
I went for story research. And also because the instructor promised to spill secrets about the industry, turn my understanding of chocolate on its ear and give us samples of fancy imported chocolate that you can’t find outside of Europe. Besides Mr. P went too and we had dinner first. So it was kind of like a date night with benefits. Research benefits.
I knew I was in trouble when the instructor started talking about his own personal chocolate cellar. Yes, he has one; he keeps his special chocolate there. While it ages. For years. (I have no patience for that. My aging limit is three months – plenty of time to let a manuscript rest between revisions or grow a decent tomato).
Things got worse when we were told we were eating chocolate wrong. Apparently you’re not supposed to stuff it in your mouth before your Sheltie grabs it from your hand. You’re supposed to break it off, piece by small piece, letting it gently dissolve between your tongue and front teeth. This should take at least five minutes. Only then can you appreciate the nuances of flavor.
And there are flavors. Plain chocolate can be flowery, fruity, spicy, nutty or a pile of other things. It can also have nuances of leather, hay, coffee, toast or wood. Mushrooms even. Who knew?
I knew about the problem of child and slave labor within much of the cacao industry, and that was troubling to hear again, but I didn’t know how hard it is to grow cacao trees or the intricacies of chocolate production. Nor had I heard the story behind those pretty, heart-shaped Valentine boxes. They were scandalous when Richard Cadbury introduced them back in 1869. The shape mimicked a plant known for birth control properties and the drawing was used as a signal from a man to a woman: get some; you’ll need it.
I learned plenty in chocolate school. I learned how the phrase ‘money grows on trees’ was inspired by chocolate. I learned that cacao is the second largest world cash crop after wheat. I learned that chocolate still tastes good when you eat it fast. That mushrooms work better in sauce than as chocolate nuance. That I’ll never have a chocolate cellar.
Mostly I learned that when Mr. P. buys me a sweet red heart-shaped box of Valentine’s chocolates I should smile and not let the kids know what it really means. But I doubt that’ll be a problem. Since the class, I’ve developed a taste for Amedei Porcelana, a delicious Italian chocolate that retails for about $100 a pound.
It looks like it’ll be an expensive Valentine’s Day at our house.