Friday, December 11, 2009
OUR LOVE AFFAIR WITH CHOCOLATE
Chocolate is produced from the beans or seeds of the tropical cacao tree. In 1753 a Swedish naturalist named the cacao tree Theobroma cacao. The name "Food of the Gods" is from the Greek; “theo" meaning god and "broma" meaning food. This “Food of the Gods” is now widely consumed throughout the whole world. The chocolate with which we are familiar is a mixture of cocoa butter (the fat part of the cocoa seeds), cocoa powder and sugar. Other optional ingredients include milk, spices, nuts, fruits, chilli and other flavorings. Trendy chocolatiers are experimenting with an amazing array of other combinations, such as bacon and chocolate!
…familiar courtship ritual.
Although romantic myth commonly identifies chocolate as an aphrodisiac, this reputed benifit of chocolate may most often be associated with the simple sensual pleasure of its consumption. While there is no firm proof that chocolate is indeed an aphrodisiac, giving a gift of chocolate to one's sweetheart is a familiar courtship ritual. Before any chocolate reaches the consumer it must go through an involved production process that is explained here in a simplified form.
I. Harvesting :
Harvesting cacao beans is a delicate process. First, the pods, containing cacao beans, are harvested. The beans, together with their surrounding pulp, are removed from the pod and placed in piles or bins to ferment for three to seven days. The fermentation process is what gives the beans their familiar chocolate taste. The beans must then be quickly dried to prevent the growth of mold; weather permitting, this is done by spreading the beans out in the sun.
II. Chocolate liquor
The dried beans are transported from the plantation where they were grown to a chocolate manufacturing facility. The beans are then cleaned (removing twigs, stones, and other debris), roasted, and graded. Next the shells are removed to extract the nib. Finally, the nibs are ground which releases and melts the cocoa butter producing chocolate liquor.
There are three things that can be done with the chocolate liquor at this point:
o It can be solidified and sold as unsweetened baking chocolate.
o Cocoa butter can be removed from it and the result is cocoa powder.
o Cocoa butter can be added to it to make an eating chocolate.
Chocolate liquor is blended with the cocoa butter in varying quantities to make different types of chocolate. The basic blends of ingredients for the various types of chocolate are as follows:
o Dark Chocolate is a mixture of cocoa liquor, cocoa butter and sugar, with a 50% to 90% percentage of cocoa.
o Basic chocolate contain at least 35% cocoa and not over 65% sugar.
o Milk Chocolate is a blend of sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, milk or milk powder, and vanilla. It should not be less then 25% cocoa.
o White chocolate is not really chocolate because it doesn't contain any cocoa solids. White chocolate is a concoction of at least 20% of cocoa butter, sugar, milk or milk powder, and vanilla.
The texture is also heavily influenced by processing, specifically conching. The more expensive chocolates tend to be processed longer and thus have a smoother texture and "feel" on the tongue, although some producers of specialty chocolates do not conch at all. A conch is a container filled with metal beads, which act as grinders. The refined and blended chocolate mass is kept liquid by frictional heat. The conching process produces cocoa and sugar particles smaller than the tongue can detect, hence the smooth feel in the mouth. The length of the conching process determines the final smoothness and character of the chocolate.
The final process is called tempering. Uncontrolled crystallization of cocoa butter typically results in crystals of varying size, some or all large enough to be clearly seen with the naked eye. This causes the surface of the chocolate to appear mottled and matte, and causes the chocolate to crumble rather than snap when broken. The uniform sheen and crisp bite of properly processed chocolate is the result of consistently small cocoa butter crystals produced by the tempering process. This provides the best appearance and mouth feel and creates the most stable crystals so the texture and appearance will not degrade over time. To accomplish this, the temperature must be carefully manipulated during the crystallization.
Chocolate is very sensitive to temperature and humidity. Ideal storage temperature is between 59 to 63 degrees Fahrenheit. Chocolate should be stored away from other foods as it can absorb different aromas. Ideally, chocolate should be stored in a dark place or protected from light by wrapping paper. If chocolate is stored or served improperly it can cause a whitish discoloration or “blooming,” the result of fat or sugar crystals rising to the surface. Although visually unappealing, this chocolate is still acceptable for consumption.
A Brief History of Chocolate
The cacao tree has truly ancient origins. Legends recount that the Mayan God Quetzalcoatl stole the sacred cacao seeds and gave them to mankind, and was punished by the other Gods because this miraculous beverage had been reserved for their exclusive use. In fact, the Mayans were among the first to cultivate cacao trees over a thousand years ago, although the cacao tree was indigenous to the basins of the Amazon and Orinoco rivers. Chocolate was a ritual beverage enjoyed by the elite throughout Mesoamerica and the seeds were even used as currency and as a unit of measurement.
…a luxury for the European nobility.
Columbus and his crew were the first Europeans to encounter cacao in 1502, although the first documented commercial shipment of cocoa beans did not arrive in Europe until the year 1585. The shipment traveled from Vera Cruz (Mexico) to Seville (Spain), where chocolate remained the exclusive domain of the Spanish for some time. However, by the XVII century, chocolate had become a luxury for the European nobility and the Dutch (spurred by economics) successfully challenged Spanish control and dominance.
...philosophy of life and a life style.
In Amsterdam at the end of the XVII century there were 30 factories producing chocolate. The Dutch patented a better processing method in 1828, and began the modern chocolate era. The English are credited with creating milk chocolate, which became immediately popular. Although Belgium and Switzerland are also known for their fine chocolates, both countries began production somewhat later than other Europeans. The Spanish introduced chocolate to Sicily, and at the end of the XVIII century, solid chocolate was invented in Turin. By tradition, the Italians then introduced chocolate to the Royal House of France, becoming a French philosophy of life and a life style.
…an avid fan of chocolate.
Thomas Jefferson, after his return from Europe was an avid fan of chocolate, although it had been imported to the United States as early as 1712. It was not until 1894 however, that the first large chocolate factory was established in the U.S. This was of course, the Hershey Chocolate Company. Hershey’s chocolate remains today as a style of chocolate beloved by most Americans but not nearly as popular with Europeans.
Avanti Savoia’s Chocolates
The American Revolution was in full swing and Louis XVI was king of France when Olivier opened its doors in 1780. Chocolats Olivier, the oldest chocolatier in France offers a sophisticated line of Grand Cru, Pure Origin and premium Selection chocolate bars. Our Grand Cru collection is made with cacao beans from a specific plantation. These are NOT mixtures of beans from different regions or different plantations. Pure (Single) Origin chocolates are made with cacao beans that come from one specific country and not necessarily from any one specific plantation. Premium Selection chocolates are blends of Criollo and Forastero cocoa beans from different geographical areas.
Hachez Chocolate Company
The German Hachez Chocolate Company was established by a Belgian chocolatier in 1890. After more than a century Hachez continues to make quality chocolate in Bremen Germany, specializing in products with a high cocoa content. The source of this connoisseur chocolate is Ecuador’s Gulf of Guayaquil, where the beans are dried under layers of banana leaves. This is chocolate made by traditional handcrafted methods that satisfy even the most demanding of refined palates.
Adventurous tasters will appreciate Chocolate Santander Single Origin Columbian. The name derives from the state of Santander in Eastern Columbia. The flavors result from the region’s unique geography and agricultural conditions. Centuries-old traditions on small farms are still employed to guarantee outstanding chocolate. Cacao pods are hand harvested with scissors and forks, split open with short machetes, sorted, fermented in wooden boxes, and then sun dried on wooden boards. Any dairy products used by Chocolate Santander are Kosher.
The Italian firm of Alberti is famous for making their Strega Liqueur. This expertise has been combined with chocolate resulting in three outstanding liqueur filled chocolate truffles. Alberti is a traditional, old school company dating from 1860. Strega means “witch” in Italian and is a legendary “love potion” and potent elixir. Alberti Magia Nera 70% Cacao Truffle paired with a glass of fine Ruby Port is a combination that is warming, herbaceous, complex and maybe just a little spooky (in a good way)!
Tasting the Chocolate
In essence, like fine vineyards, every cocoa plantation produces beans with signature nuances which ultimately reflect the conditions under which they are grown and cultivated. Likewise each individual chocolatier produces their own unique flavor profiles.
…note just how similar this process can be to wine tasting.
As you approach the chocolate or chocolates to be tasted, notice the sheen and surface texture. The next step is enjoying the chocolate smell or bouquet. This is where you might note just how similar this process can be to wine tasting. Your sense of smell is one of your important (and fun) tools here.
Give the chocolate a chance to reveal its secrets…
After observing and smelling, we arrive at the all important job of tasting. Break off a small piece and listen for a clear snap. Place the piece in your mouth and (this is the hard part) allow it to melt SLOWLY. Take your time here because you may be surprised. Give the chocolate a chance to reveal its secrets. It may be complex and subtle, but clear flavors and sensations are definitely recognizable. Experience the interplay of sweetness, bitterness and richness.
Expect to find some fascinating flavors…
Also, take the time to note the texture and mouth feel of the chocolate relative to the conching or lack of it. Unconched chocolates will be more noticeably grainy and different than conched, but not necessarily better or worse. Trust your own palate and experience. Expect to find some fascinating flavors in quality chocolate reminiscent of licorice, spices, nuts, citrus peels, fruits, vanilla, coffee, tea and a whole range of others.
Chocoholics rejoice; Avanti Savoia is here for you!
A special thank you to Vito De Carolis for his research assistance in producing this post!
Chocolate & Raspberry Loaf
Dark Choc. Tea Bread
Queen of the Smokies
Sour Mash Chocolate Icing
Posted by Avanti Savoia at 2:11 PM
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Our Fourth (and Counting) Annual Holiday Celebration
a bit more red wine…
It was back in December of 2006 that Avanti Savoia celebrated the first holiday open house with a modest gathering of family and friends. The small group enjoyed tasting some of the best extra virgin olive oils and authentic balsamic vinegars in America. At some point a bit more red wine was required and several of the guests made their way to me for a little consultation. I understood their search for good wine but was intrigued by their request for something to be paired with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Our shared passion…
This was my first encounter with the fledgling Avanti Savoia Import Company. Next was an Avanti shopping trip by my wife, Gail and then a number of meetings between me and the three partners, Doug, Ben and Vito. Our shared passion for the “best of the best” helped form a bond and a wonderful working relationship.
a tradition and precedent were clearly established…
The second Avanti open house included a few more family and friends and was an opportunity for me to display some of my culinary creations based on the exceptional Avanti products. Open house number three was not only a chance to share our products but also a celebration of our newly purchased office and warehouse. This time the guest list was expanded considerably and a tradition and precedent were clearly established.
the guests kept right on arriving…
It was determined that to avoid December scheduling conflicts and to encourage early holiday shopping that we would throw this year’s party on the Friday before Thanksgiving. Now, the guest list really has grown and we hoped for a really good response. Ben’s wife, Erin served as our charming “greeter,” and reported that she ran out of name tags at number 165, although the guests kept right on arriving.
our supplies of food and beverages…
Fortunately, our supplies of food and beverages were ample for the demand. For the first time we enjoyed the services of a professional catering service, whom also happens to be our neighbor. Rosa’s Catering is a well known and established service which is especially noted for their delicious, beautiful cakes. We appreciated the efforts of Executive chef Rosa Nussbaumer and her son, Phillip who is the President of the company. You can check their work out for yourself at (www.RosasCatering.com).
the dashing and somewhat mysterious server…
After a warm greeting from Erin, our guests made their way to the wine bar, where they were served by the dashing and somewhat mysterious server working under the alias, Diego Festival. Directly across the room from the wine bar (perhaps as an unintentional balance) was an inviting coffee display of products from our coffee supplier, Vienna Coffee Company. The owner of the company, John Clark was able to personally interact with the guests, informing them about his products and telling stories surrounding his venture into the world of coffee roasting. Watch for an entire blog soon to be devoted to Vienna Coffee.
After finding a beverage of choice, attendees passed into our warehouse and found themselves face to face with our intrepid Italian partner, Don Vito de Carolis. Vito was serving samples of our fantastic new line of Italian cheeses, along with his encyclopedic knowledge and tales concerning all things “Formaggi.” We will be providing these great cheeses on our website very soon along with an informative post.
the real heart of our open house…
A few feet away from the cheese center, guests found the real heart of our open house, a 24 foot buffet offering a taste of some of our best “Culinary Treasures from Around the World.” This tasting featured over 35 products out of our inventory of approximately 500 items.
compare… and experience for themselves…
Rather than just viewing pictures in our catalog or on our website, visitors could compare great extra virgin olive oils and experience for themselves the delights of authentic balsamic vinegars. Also included were delicacies from Italy, France, Spain, Texas, Hawaii and the ever popular Lowcountry of the Southeastern US. As a matter of fact, a runaway favorite was the Lowcountry Sweet Potato Butter piled on Gail’s Homemade Southern Biscuits. Of course, our excellent chocolates from Olivier, Hachez, Alberti and Tortas from La Serentissima found an appreciative audience, as well.
Just to make sure no one left hungry, Rosa’s Catering supplied Mushroom Bruschetta, Crudités Nouveau and a luscious Goat Cheese Torta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Pesto.
The caterers also served “shooters” of Lowcountry Gazpacho.
…serious foodies of all stripes…
We were thrilled to see such a great response to our invitations. Loyal customers mingled with friends, family and serious foodies of all stripes. The diverse collection of people also included community and business leaders, chefs, food writers and stylists, cookbook authors, a local radio personality and the directors of a regional food pantry. Our party goers were also encouraged to wander up and down the aisles of our warehouse discovering and selecting their own choice of products.
gratitude that we owe to so many friends…
It truly was a grand occasion that we enjoyed very much, but we are also very aware of the debt of gratitude that we owe to so many friends. Among those that we need to extend special thanks to are: Kathy Slocum, Erin Slocum, Zach Slocum, Gail Lowery, Sheri Treadwell, Linda Ullian Schmid, Diane Cole, Julie and Peter Wolf and many others. The photos on this post are provided courtesy of Bruce Cole Photography, (www.brucecole.com).
Posted by Avanti Savoia at 10:26 AM