Leaving Well Enough Alone


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As Valentine's Day fast approaches I'm reminded of the perils of marketing high end food as an occupation. It's today's article in the New York Times that prompts me to blog.

"Terroir. Origin. Single variety blend."

No, I'm not talking about wines or whiskeys. I'm talking about chocolate.

Before I go one step further I should just say that I plan on going against the grain here. I plan on taking a stand against the need to "fussify" and make precious something that was fine just as it was. I plan on a departure from my professional career, if only temporarily.

Can we just leave chocolate alone, people?

I think I'm relatively knowledgeable about chocolate. It's my job to be. I know the basic percentages of cocoa solids in the dark, bittersweet and milk varieties. I understand chocolate liquor. I grasp the growing, harvesting and production methods used. I appreciate the blends created by food artists the world over. I can taste the difference between Michael Recchiuti's chocolate and a Mars Bar. But darn it to heck, I just can't get my little brain around all these single-variety, single-origin and exclusive-derivation terms. To me, they amount to nothing more than smoke and mirrors, the basics of food marketing 101: make it fancy, slap a feel-good story on it and the people will come.

As a marketing professional and advertising director, well, I'm guilty as charged. You see, I'm guilty of pushing a concept that I don't really stand behind, and I'm still waiting for someone to change my mind. Until then, stay far, far away, you Chocolate Sommeliers!

It seems like I'm in relatively good company, though. There are a few food professionals and chocolatiers who don't buy the hype. They believe that the bean's origins don't indicate quality or flavor once they're roasted, conched, tempered, blended and mixed. ""The art of chocolate-making is in blending. People who think just about percentage or just about origin stop tasting and just focus on some kind of concept that is constantly changing," says Robert Steinberg, a founder of Scharffen Berger chocolate here in California.

I guess I can't blame people, though. It seems that all of us are constantly chasing the next big thing, trying to predict, buy, market and push what's next on the forefront. Heck, we did it with mojitos, with pomegranates, with cupcakes, with hot sauces and olive oils, chocolate had to be next, naturally. Go ahead and eat your fancy chocolate, but please don't let it become something else it need not be.

Ok, off my soapbox and back to my day job. I've got a case of amazing single-origin bars from Venezuela, 70%, if you're interested. You just have to taste them!


7 Responses to “Leaving Well Enough Alone”

  1. Anonymous KimC 

    I am so excited to see you have a blog! Kim

  2. Anonymous Kate 

    Well Hallelujah someone else who has seen the marketing scam for what it is! I'm sure chocolate is being packaged and marketed this way simply to get the consumer to buy 2 or more bars at a time (not that I have a problem with buying lots of chocolate, mind you). If you buy the spiel that there are "subtle" differences between chocolates of different origins, then clearly one would need to taste them side by side. Clever way of boosting sales though.

  3. Anonymous Melissa 

    I couldn't agree more! Although I love chocolate, I've often thought that maybe I'm just too uncultured to really appreciate the differences between, say, a Grenada Single Estate 60% and a Madagascar Plantation 64%. I can't tell you how much better I feel knowing it's okay to like just plain ol' chocolate! :)

  4. Anonymous Liz 

    I see where you're coming from, and I enjoy your point of view. Chocolate for me has always been about taste, consistency, freshness and... did I mention taste? I pick Lindt over Hershey's because I like it more. And I prefer dark chocolate. But in the end it's about quality, which I suspect is true for a lot of people.

    And now I'm off to make Martha Sterwart's truffle brownies with Tollhouse morsels ;-)

    Can't wait to see your next post.

    Liz

  5. Anonymous Brenda 

    Just discovered (and am enjoying) your blog, and mostly I would have agreed with you on chocolate, except... I bought a box of Trader Joe's Single Origin Extra Dark Chocolate Collection as a Valentine treat, and there really was a difference you could taste. There was Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Madagascar at 75, 73, and 70 percent, respectively. Ecuador won my taste buds, hands down. Since I don't know where to get all-Ecuadoran bars, I'll stay the course with my dark Lindt bars.

    A chocolate lover in Santa Barbara

  6. Anonymous matt 

    Brenda, that's it! I'm off to Trader Joe's to experience the deliciousness myself!

    Thanks for reading and posting! :)

    -matt

  7. Anonymous B'gina 

    I can understand the idea, at least if there actually is a difference in flavor and aroma. Food snobs have to have something to be snobbish about. Myself, I'm allergic to chocolate. I can handle small amounts of very low cocoa milk chocolate, but even the meagrest dark chocolate does me in. Fortunately, this is one food fad I can nappily sit out.

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About me

  • I'm Matt Armendariz
  • From Los Angeles, California
  • A man with a passion for good food and a wonderful life with a dash of irreverence. Read at your own risk. Advertising director by day, wino by night. All photos on this site by Matt Armendariz.
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