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A Chemical Romance



by Tejal Rao
January 2007

If you find things turning sickly sweet around Valentine’s Day as the two-tops increase, take a stand against chocolate’s overly romantic image and the holiday’s sugary inclination by creating a savory chocolate tasting menu which plays up seasonal game, fruits, and vegetables.

For chocolate, it seems that food science has mostly served to complicate its romantic image rather than break it down. Articles about chocolate these days like to focus on the mystique of its chemical properties such as the cannabinoid anandamide, from the Sanskrit word Anand, a spiritual bliss in Hinduism up there with Nirvana, the release from the cycle of life and death. But around this time of the year, as lovers start googling aphrodisiacs in preparation for Valentines Day, it would be more fitting to mention phenethlamine, an amphetamine nicknamed the “love chemical” (which isn’t as suspicious as it sounds, really) and thought to be psychoactive in sufficient quantities. » more


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But let’s be honest, it would take several pounds of chocolate to consume enough of the cannabinoid, amphetamine, and trace amounts of caffeine to actually affect the brain, after which, face smeared in chocolate, sharp pains in stomach, you’d be feeling neither blissful nor romantic… Excess reminds us of chocolate’s darker side: Augustus Gloop, the glutton who tumbled into its deadly river—but not to worry, what’s actually sexy about chocolate can be enjoyed in a single square: its melting point. Chocolate melts just below body temperature. This means that by nature, contrary to the popular ad campaign, it should melt in your hands as well as your mouth. What’s more, as the fat crystals of well-made chocolate melt, and the square gently goes from solid to liquid using the heat energy from your tongue, it constructs the beautiful illusion of cooling your mouth.

Ask a chocolate connoisseur (who hopefully doesn’t use the term connoisseur to describe himself) and they might talk to you about the nuances of chocolate flavor that reflect its growth and process. With good chocolate, the taste starts with the bean itself, whose flavor, like a grape, is greatly affected by circumstances of temperature, sunlight, humidity, soil and all the details of its terroir. Actual chocolate-makers, who process the beans themselves, are celebrating chocolate’s terroir and committing more and more to single-origin beans. The other flavors come from the fermentation of the pulp, the roasting, the added sugars and vanilla, and finally, the milk solids, which vary from country to country. Each step adds notes of floral, balsamic, cherry, coffee, tobacco, sherry, roasted nuts, cheese, grass, spice and so…as it turns out the language to talk chocolate is not unlike the language to talk wine. And like wine, good chocolate can be paired with food to amplify and accentuate its already developed flavor profile.

So as the time to set Valentines’ menus approaches, how about creating a tasting that takes full advantage of chocolate’s qualities by pairing it with small game birds, cheeses, spices and other salty, savory flavors? There are more than enough flavors to play with—from amuse bouche to dessert, without tiring anyone’s palate. Compose a menu that highlights just the right amount of chocolate in each dish—from savory to sweet, and leaves your guests feeling satisfied but not too full to, er, generate their own love chemicals, naturally.

Buying chocolate? If you’re planning to give chocolate as a gift, forget those flashy ribboned boxes, which aren’t particularly romantic, and seek out a few bars of both milk and dark Amadei, or other high quality chocolates that focus on flavor rather than packaging.


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