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!