[Take note of those words]
Out with friends recently I commented on how I don't give my children confectionery any more than a couple of times a month. It was suggested that I shouldn't be a chocolate snob' - which got me thinking. Isn't ignorance bliss? In some circles it’s a badge of honour to be a wine buff. However, I wouldn't be able to tell a Bordeaux from a Beaujolais - or even if they're mutually exclusive. I may have accumulated half a dozen bottles of Champagne - but I don't really care for it, but as the integrated wine rack would look bare if I gave them away, and they bring back happy memories of our wedding babies being born, etc.
Also the last time I went to a 'posh' restaurant was Les Enfants Perdus in Paris - three years ago. For I know the French could think that was the equivalent to a Berni Inn. Who am I to know? Do I really care as I enjoyed the food and the experience.
To be fair I am partial to a bit of classical music when I'm concentrating. But I couldn't tell your Wagner from your Verdi. I might come across a bit of Tosca on Spotify and not turn my nose up.
So I wouldn't say it's fair to call me a 'snob'.
The point is, we all have a passion. A calling. Something we're mysteriously drawn to that seems unfathomable - at first. On reflection my love affair with chocolate seemingly is an intoxicating combination of factors that in a Freudian manner meet and express itself in this medium. For me those reasons are:
I wish I was a sleuth - there is a great deal of smoke and mirrors in the chocolate industry. There is sleight of hand, untruths, miss-representations and cunning decoys. Not only do we have certain people make it easy to consumers to believe they actually make chocolate, when they use other people's, we also have companies that may label their chocolate as one origin when they actually they can't be sure. We'll have companies that label their chocolate as "artisanal" or "craft" when all they do is produce chocolate in smaller batches with non-fine beans and ask their designer to put the word on the packaging. There's no accountability or legal standards for this or any similar wording.
Taking a chocolate bar with lovely packaging, great branding and sold on a sparkly website and the finding the truth excites me. Consumers are too willing to believe marketing hype and that frustrates me in equal measure. Of course I have to be careful what I say, but selecting chocolate to review, showing the process and the considerations we take when deciding which chocolate to stock should be a could way for consumers to see through the bull - so you can use that understanding to help choose better chocolate - whomever that is from. (Here is another good way to hone your bullcrap detector)
I care about people - we've got some new stock on the way from Bolivia that has come direct from growers there and some others from Costa Rica from a resource that has direct access into a number of growers and local makers. That's where we want to be. The closer retailers source chocolate to our home shores less of the value of that chocolate will flow to the growers. If European makers directly source their beans from Tropical countries that is one thing, but having them shipped in their thousands of tonnes to a dusty (I won't mention other contaminants) warehouse in the Netherlands and mixed together with other beans then can you, as a consumer, know where your money is flowing, and how much of it goes to the growers? There are crises dotted around the undeveloped and under-developed worlds and chocolate can be a catalyst for compassionate and beneficial change.
I care about the environment - having chocolate that isn't made from mass-produced cocoa beans that are grown from genetic stock that is harmful to the environment is important to me. So is having chocolate grown from beans that are sprayed with all sorts of nonsense is also important. Some of the huge companies do good work with education and training in grower nations, they also want to help preserve rare genetic strains of cacao. But also they have a legal obligation to produce profits for their shareholders. There is nothing wrong with that, per se, but to facilitate that they have to increase productivity and yields. With these metrics being so poor in many countries you can enhance them just by better working practices. However, there will become a point, and in South America we have already come to it, where yields have been improved to the direct and incontestable detriment to the local environment.
Fine flavour yields will never yield as much as cacao bastardised by human hands but at least we could help them produce sufficient to supply a doubling of demand for fine flavour chocolate over the next ten or twenty years - if we help them now by buying their produce.
I care about what I eat - Having beans that have been carefully selected, sorted and as free as mould and other contaminants is obviously vital. We've had so many scares over recent years about the quality of our food that I am concerned greatly about what I eat. Small businesses being utterly accountable to their customers who know they couldn't survive putting out shoddy or unsafe products are an important factor. Having what your produce tested for 'nasties' is absolutely vital - none more so than if you're producing in a domestic environment or retailing items that are. Despite huge chocolate makers having rigorous and expensive quality control systems I still found a toe nail in a box of Smarties as I child and there are frequent stories of more hideous contaminants being found in food stuffs.
I love the controversy - not only do we have the natural history arguments of where cacao originally evolved and how it spread throughout South and Central America and then by sailboats around the world. But we also have the recent developments that show the huge variety of genetic strains of cacao there are whilst even hundreds, if not thousands of books and websites that still cling to the out-dated "three variety" dogma.
I love seeing people find their calling - so many chocolate makers have come from numerical or analytical backgrounds into the creative world of chocolate and win prestigious awards that its great when you see them doing well and encourage new makers to focus on quality and that success will follow.
But most of all - I love the way chocolate tastes (mostly) - mass-produced confectionary, to me at least, is just a varying formulation of fat, salt and sugar. They either play on how 'luxurious' it feels, or how 'satisfying' it is, occasionally they'll guilt-trip you into saying its 'Fair Trade' or 'Saves Rainforest’s - but derrr it shouldn't have been anything other than fair and ethical in the first place! I don't see them ever saying commentating on how unusual or interesting their 'chocolate' tastes. It never seemingly is about the flavour - excuse me if I'm speaking out of turn, but chocolate should mostly be about the flavour. Otherwise you can just take a pill to make you happy and at peace with the world - you would just lose all sense of connection with the world around us.
If we don't have wine, chocolate or any other type of food snob then this is the mind of world we're heading for: