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Comments by YACCS
Wednesday, February 08, 2006

It's chocolate, not wine

Chocolate That Flashes Its Passport

Published: February 8, 2006

HIS name was Conrad Miller, and he would be our chocolate sommelier for the afternoon.

So it has come to this. Chocolate, a comfortable world that for many people exists between the downscale joy of a Kit Kat bar and the exhilaration of a well-made ganache, now requires a sommelier.

It is no longer enough to understand the difference between milk and bittersweet. Even the know-it-all chocolate cowboys who brag about eating nothing less than 85 percent cocoa bars are out of their league.

Now, the game is all about origin. As with olive oil or coffee, knowing where one's chocolate came from is starting to matter. Even the most casual wine drinker can name a preferred varietal, and the neophyte cheese fan understands that Brie is French and good Cheddar comes from England.

Terroir, it turns out, matters in chocolate, too.

That's where Mr. Miller comes in. He's a part-time musician with Midwest Mennonite roots, but he looks perfectly at home in the Flatiron district, where the French chocolate maker Michel Cluizel opened a shop in November at ABC Carpet and Home. It is Mr. Cluizel's only shop in America and much of the chocolate reflects the specific piece of land where the cacao beans were grown.

Mr. Miller's job is to help the baffled but curious make sense of it all. His tools are a tray of foil-wrapped chocolate wafers from several countries, a glass of water and a little bowl of tortilla chips — he prefers unsalted — to provide a palate scrub.

One day last week, he walked me through a $35 tasting. We pondered the snappy break and acidic finish of chocolate from the African island of São Tomé and discussed how growing cacao trees in the soil of a former mango grove might result in chocolate with a faint flash of the fruit. We contemplated the raisiny ways of a bar from Papua New Guinea, which Mr. Miller suggested would go well with port.

Each chocolate wafer had its story, which Mr. Miller was happy to tell. "It's like reading a novel and eating a novel all at the same time," he said.

But when it comes down to it, can he really discern Ghana from Grenada? Ecuador from Colombia?

"Regions I can tell. Continents, at least," he said. "I'm still working on the countries."

If our chocolate sommelier can't understand it all, is there hope for the rest of us?

posted by Steve @ 2:46:00 PM

2:46:00 PM

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