Category Archives: Chocolate

Assault on Chocolate Revisted

The US Food & Drug Administrations potential (and perhap likely) assault on the purity of chocolate has been covered in newspapers’ food pages and the food blogosphere alike, including my posting on the background on the looming crisis in American chocolateville. Now, no less an authority than Mort Rosenblum, an award-winning and authoritative author whose latest book is Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light, weighed with an op-ed piece in the New York Times.

He reminded readers that “real chocolate” is made from crushed cacao beans that provide both the solid cocoa component and also cocoa butter “that is vital to texture because, quite literally, it melts in your mouth.” He calls companies like Hershey’s and Mars “industrial confectioners” and so they are. These powerful candy interests are behind the FDA’s current decision, whether to permit the use of cheaper vegetable fats for cocoa butter but still label the resulting product as “chocolate.”

Rosenblum wrote, “Advocates of substitution claim Europeans already do this. That comparison, whether a misunderstanding or an effort to mislead, is absurd. When European companies tried to cut cocoa butter, the debate dragged on for a decade. In 2003, the European Union ruled that substitution had to be limited to 5 percent and only by a few specific oils that chemically resemble cocoa butter. This faux chocolate is clearly labeled “contains vegetable fats in addition to cocoa butter” — and is shunned by purists. The French like to call it ‘cocholat,’ an epithet derived from their word for pig, cochon.”

He noted that the FDA “can act swiftly to change rules based on what it calls a citizen’s petition. During the comment period, which ends today, ‘citizens” like the Grocery Manufacturers Association added new guidelines for chocolate onto an omnibus petition covering more than 200 foods that “called for, among other things, altering food standards to ‘permit maximum flexibility in the food technology used to prepare the standardized food’ and to allow ‘any alternative process that accomplishes the desired effect.’”

If the FDA capitulates to corporate interests and adds chocolate to the list of engineered Franken-food, the effects on food manufacturing in general and chocolate making in particular could be cosmic, because the proposed “guidelines provide for no effective limit on how much cocoa butter can be substituted nor restrictions on what fats can be used. There is no attempt to mimic the real thing,” he wrote. California chocolatier Gary Guittard is credited with sounding the alarm and rallying opposing forces; the F.D.A. extended its comment period to today.

Rosenblum added, “As word of the chocolate petition spread in Europe, Old World masters reacted predictably. They had watched Americans finally catch on to the wonders of cacao, and are appalled at the idea that this could all be lost. As Jacques Genin, whose unmarked one-room Paris factory is a holy site for connoisseurs, said, everyone has a right to the joy of chocolate — and if most chocolate on the shelves is fake, only those who can afford creations like Mr. Genin’s will know how wonderful it is.”

Rosenblum noted, “The proposal would widen the gap between good and awful. Industrial food companies could sell their waxy cocholat for less. But purveyors of the real thing have no corners to cut. While discerning chocoholics will fork over whatever it takes, those who can’t pay will never know chocolate.

“Proponents cloud the issue with dubious claims. Some say, for instance, the change would help growers and African children who toil for a pittance in cacao fields, without explaining exactly how. But in fact, it would lower the demand for beans.

“When Americans learned to love olive oil, growers improved quality. In the same way, a chocolate revolution put a premium on better beans. But 90 percent of cacao farmers barely scratch by. They would suffer from lower demand, and so would their product.”

If Chocolate is Not Sacred, What Is?

The ingredients for chocolate are no secret (sugar, cocoa solids and cocoa butter, and for milk chocolate, milk solids). The proportions, the care and the result are the diffrence between the makings of a prosaic candy bar and both premium chocolate and high confectionery art. I’m seeing chocolate threats on various fronts. A “citizens’ petition” under consideration by the Food & Drug Administration would permit manufacturers to substitute vegetable fats and oils for cocoa butter. Considering that the “citizens” who wrote this petition were the likes of the Chocolate Manufacturers Assn., the Grocery Manufacturers Assn., the Snack Food Assn. and other powerful lobbying and trade associations related to the food business, the petition is suspect.

The Chocolate Manufacturers Assn. tap-danced around its reasons for endorsing the industry-friendly, consumer-unfriendly petition by proclaiming, “The Chocolate Manufacturers Association’s (CMA) decision to co-sign the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) citizen’s petition reflects CMA’s view that now is an appropriate time for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to update the standards of identity for all foods. We want to emphasize that by co-signing the food industry petition, CMA has not endorsed any particular change to the standards of identity for chocolate products.” Yeah, right, but who wants to bet that some of their powerful members wouldn’t want to be permitted to replace costlier cocoa butter with cheaper vegetable fats without having to reveal the subtrefuge and thereby ratchet up their profits, even at the expense of taste?

Further, the heart-health benefits of dark chocolate have been recently touted after a Cleveland Clinic study. In addition to the guaranteed erosion of taste, I am going to guess that vegetable fats won’t have the same beneficial effects.

Now, Reuters reports that Mars has already been monkeying with its chocolate formulations, at least in England where the article was date-lined. Mars had decided to add rennet, an enzyme made from the lining of cows’ stomachs, into chocolate. It’s usually used in cheese, where it is expected, but vegetarians and vegans are furious that it was sneaked into chocolate. Three million British vegetarians were unhappy, perhaps among them some of the 40 members of Parliament who objected, and Mars has rescinded its chocolate abuse. Let’s hope the FDA is equally smart.

Omni Interlocken Chefs’ Competition.

The Omni Interlocken Hotel down the pike in Broomfield was the setting for another chef’s competition — this year called Sonoma Meets the Rocky Mountains, featuring four teams from mountain resorts who prepared meals to pair with Sonoma wines. Like television’s “Iron Chef,” the contestants were presented with a secret ingedients: mushrooms from Hazel Dell. The Omni’s own chefs set out hors d’oeuvres to hold the guests/judges (one and the same) while the four chefs and their sous-chefs toiled at four cooking stations to create small plates. Of course, there were paired wines. Of course, there were sweets afterwards. And of course, my note-taking and photographing deteriorated as the evening wore on.
The contestants and their dishes:
  • Bob Burden (above left), Beaver Run Restaurant, Breckenridge – Sautéed herb-rubbed lamb loin topped with micro greens and enoki mushroom salad tossed in pinot noir dressing, with Bing cherry and pomegranate demi-glace and forest mushroom bulgur risotto.
  • Jake Linzinmeier, Chair 8, Telluride – Wild mushroom consomme, cappuccino-style topped with a celery root and potato foam, with goat cheese biscotti.
  • Tim McCaw, Zach’s Cabin, Beaver Creek – Coquille St. Jacques (above right, seared scallop and brandied curry cream atop puff potato, which one of the Zach’s crew described to me as duchesse potatoes and five different mushrooms — lion’s head, shiitaki, baby portabello king oyster and oyster).
  • Aaron Taylor, Keystone Ranch Restaurant – Venison strip loin with mushroom duxelles, stuffed with mushrooms and foie gras, with wild ramp potato risotto, huckleberry compote and mushrooms.

I had a heck of a time marking my ballot from four excellent dishes. Burden’s lamb was super-flavorful, and the demi-glace was sensational. Linzinmeier’s “drinkable” soup was imaginative to the max. McCaw’s scallop was perfectly seared, brown-crusted on top and delicate in the center were a straightforward flavor that worked beautifully with the subtly complex mushroom mix. The stuffing for Taylor’s venison was a rich counterpoint to the venison, and the mushrooms and compote tamed it all down a tad. In the end, Linzinmeier took “Best Dish” honors, and McCaw was voted the “Best Food & Wine Pairing.”

Speaking of pairings, the chefs created their mushroom dishes to pair with the following wines:

  • 2005 Buena Vista EVS Pinot Noir for Burden (tied for “Best Wine” honors)
  • 2004 Wattle Creek Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for Linzinmeier
  • 2005 Clos du Bois Reserve Chardonnay Russian River Valley for McCaw
  • 2004 Geyser Peak Reserve Alexander Valley Meritage for Taylor (Geyser Peak’s 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, served during the reception, tied for “Best Wine”)
Even as the the competing chefs were preapring their dishes, the Omni’s own chefs prepared the following appetizers for the reception (and I hope I got them right):
  • Crab cakes with Meyer lemon relish and tarragon aioli
  • Cocoa seared pork tenderloin
  • Heirloom tomato and California artichoke on puff pastry, with opal basil pesto
  • Sesame seared ahi tuna, with wakame salad and pickled ginger, crisp lotus root and wasabi-scented soy sauce
  • Tempura calamari “lollipops”
  • Tomato-lemongrass coulis shooters
  • Duck confit spring rolls with California raisin chutney
  • Niman Ranch steak tartar on crisp potato gallettes
  • Citrus-scented lobster and jicama salad with vanilla Anglaise
  • Spicy Baja ceviche and taro chips
  • Niman Ranch tri-tip with warm tortillas

Then there were the desserts. I thought I’d died an gone to heaven when I ate Wen Chocolates’ offerings. The Mission Fig chocolates were great. Then there were pecans in chocolate that were even greater. Then there were the several teas in dark chocolate — a formula for the longevity if ever there was one, especially with red wine — that were so good that I think I ate myself into a coma!

Most Unusual (Chocolate) Truffles

I never pass up the opportunity to eat truffles, both the fungus and the chocolate. During this about-to-end visit to New York, I lucked into an invitation gourmet truffle tasting at Vosges HautChocolat in Manhattan’s oh-so-trendy SoHo. In an aggressively designed retail space (one purple wall, one large crystal chandelier, gleaming cases and shelves displaying truffles as if they were precious jewels, one long white marble table where the tasting took place and where usual habitues gather for coffee-and…), I tasted some weird, wild combos. A red wine (I think the Merlot) from Long Island’s Osprey’s Dominion Vineyard was poured with the trufffles.

Olio d’Oliva is single-origin white chocolate around an olive oil-infused ganache core. It came plated with a natural potato chip. Naga (“inspired by Nagaland, India,” we tasters were told) has a slightly nutty core, with a subtle coconut flavor and curry on top was served with small corn-nut snack crackers from the subcontinent. Black Pearl is a dark chocolate with ginger-wasabi ganache and a sprinkling of toasted black sesame seeds and accompanied by toasted wasabi-flavored edamame. Rooster is the name of a tall, conical truffle with a bittersweet chocolate mantle around a center that includes taleggio cheese. Absinthe is all about dark chocolate, black licorice flavor and a topping of powdery cocoa. Dulce de Leche combines Argentine caramel and cashew in a milk chocolate mantle, accompanied by a piece of applewood smoked bacon. I’ve had some better truffles in my life, a lot that were not nearly as good and none that were more more unusual.

This line of truffles was improbably established in Chicago by Katrina Markoff, who studied psychology and chemistry at Vanderbilt University and then culinary and pastry arts at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. During a subsequent eight-month trip around the world, she discovered many new flavors that she now incorporates into her truffles. In addition to the Vosges Haut-Chocolat store in SoHo (132 Spring Street), there are stores in Chicago (where the factory is also located) and at the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

Valentine’s Day Alert: Terrific Truffles

Over the holidays, we became the fat and happy recipients of several boxes of candy from several sources. Belvedere, See’s, Godiva all landed under our tree or in our mailbox. Thanks (I think) to Santa and everyone else. Rationing ourselves to just one or two sweet treats each per day, we are just finishing the last of the lucious loot. It has been a great run.

Of all the wonderful candies we ate, the truffles from Joseph Schmidt Confections of San Francisco stood out. Their thick chocolate mantle (milk, to-die-for dark, two-tone) encase a silky smooth ganache. And did I mention that they are generously sized? It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but trust me, this picture doesn’t do justice to the taste of these award-winning treats.

These fabulous truffles are made in the European tradition of fine confections, so it surprised me to learn that although Joseph Schmidt, the man (seen left, relaxing at his desk), was born in 1939, Joseph Smith Confections, the store, has only been around since 1993. In addition to the original retail location at 3489 16th Street in San Francisco, there’s now a second store in San Jose at 356 Santana Row. If I lived within striking distance of either, I’d be the size of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. But I don’t, but luckily for the rest of us, Joseph Schmidt does ship.

Valentine’s Day is coming right up, and with it, the opportunity to treat someone special to candy and flowers and a romantic champagne dinner, the trio of classic Valentine’s Day indulgences. If you love someone enough to get the very best candy you can, consider Joseph Schmidt’s.

5.8 Million Calories — But Who’s Counting?

Keystone has long been one of Colorado’s most food-oriented mountain resorts. The Chocolate Village crafted annually by chef Ned Archibald takes 10 months to create and assemble. This year, Keystone celebrates its 36th anniversary with 36 Days of Chocolate, culminating with the unveiling of the 2006 Chocolate Village on December 15 in the lobby of the Keystone Lodge. That’s 5.8 million calories! Not surprising considering that it includes an enormous chocolate mountain with a working chocolate gondola, a cascading chocolate waterfall and a tall white-chocolate Christmas tree with spun-sugar ornaments. The village will be on display through January 2, so don’t miss seeing it if you ski Keystone between now and the end of the holidays.

The chocolate fest actually kicked off on November 17, but I was too busy eating at First Bite Boulder restaurants to notice. But there are still several weeks of chocolohia during which Keystone restaurants feature signature dishes, appetizers, desserts, drinks and even salads with a sweet chocolate twist. Examples: The Edgewater Café‘s chocolate raspberry pancakes at breakfast, Ski Tip Lodge’s chocolate bread and Der Fondue Chessel’s rich pumpkin-spiced chocolate fondue. The resort also is giving a complimentary tin of chocolate cookies to each dinner sleigh ride guest, and the Keystone Lodge and Spa introduces a sublime Wake Up and Smell the Chocolate Package through December 23.

Think snow. Think chocolate.