It certainly was, though we reeled in shock when we were told at the beginning of the day that we wouldn’t actually be tasting any chocolate until after lunch. Was this some sort of cruel joke?
Instead, we spent the morning learning lots about chocolate (I was astonished to hear for instance that we know so little about cocoa that we still don’t know which insect or insects pollinate it in the wild).
And of course, we learned all about HOW to taste chocolate, first concentrating on our sense of smell, which is so much more sensitive than our sense of taste. We enthusiastically sniffed dozens of pots containing items as diverse as raspberry jam, rum and burned toast so that we could develop our aromatic skills (try tasting chocolate – or anything for that matter – whilst pinching your nostrils together, and you’ll understand how crucial the sense of smell is for tasting anything).
We also drank various liquids in order to distinguish between the five major tongue ‘tastes’: salty, sweet, bitter, sour and umami (savoury). So, lemons are sour, quinine (a.k.a tonic water) is a good reference point for bitter, and umami is a meaty, yeasty taste – think marmite – that is often added to our food in the form of MSG (in chocolate it may mean that the beans were over-fermented during production).
The workshop was run by Martin Christy, founder of Seventy Percent. Martin is an absolute mine of information on everything to do chocolate, and possibly, just possibly, eats more chocolate than I do.
One of Martin’s aims is to educate the public about fine, origin chocolate, so that we can learn to discern the good from the bad. The world of fine chocolate has absolutely exploded in the last few years. However, there is still an awful lot of poor quality chocolate around (some passed off as good quality), and it can be hard to tell the difference without a bit of tuition. When you ‘get it’, which I first did towards the beginning of 2012 at one of Martin’s chocolate flavour evenings in London, it’s truly eye-opening. (And bear in mind that I’m someone who already knows a fair amount about chocolate, having been involved in raw chocolate for several years.)
Together with other individuals and organisations, Martin is also working hard on making the world of cocoa production more sustainable and ethical. This a subject that is close to my heart and I look forward to seeing developments in this area. Fine chocolate by its nature has to come from good quality cocoa beans, grown in well-managed, sustainable, small-scale farms by people who earn enough to give them a good reason to care about standards. Cacao trees are much more suited to conditions that mimic natural rainforest-type growth rather than monoculture plantations as, for instance, they need to co-exist with other taller trees that provide shade. So, along with the fact that we are beginning to care more about things like ethical trading and sustainability, there are plenty of reasons to hope that the chocolate industry will be sharpening up its act over the coming years.
In case you’re wondering, we did actually get to taste quite a lot of chocolate in the afternoon. I can’t tell you how much fun it was: detecting aromas, flavour notes and sensations, and getting to know some really good chocolate such as Pacari, Amano and Michel Cluizel. There’s loads more out there to try though……
Altogether, a fascinating workshop that comes highly recommended by yours truly. Visit www.seventypercent .com for more info.