Posts by Clay Gordon

Clay Gordon is an independent authority on chocolate, conducting tastings and classes throughout the country. His new book is Discover Chocolate, published by Gotham Books. He lives in New York’s Westchester County.

We invite people with noteworthy ideas about food to blog on Culinate.

Chocolate: To store or not to store

December 13, 2007

One question that invariably comes up when I talk about chocolate is how best to store it.

The glib answer is, the best place to store chocolate is in your mouth. The larger issues around chocolate storage are really cultural, I find.

In chocolate-loving European countries, the idea never comes up, as the approach to food in general and foods such as chocolate in particular is very different from ours here in the U.S. In Paris, for example, I noticed that people don’t have large apartments or even large refrigerators. So there’s a tendency to buy food in small quantities and to buy it often. If chocolate is part of the menu, you stop by the chocolate shop on your way home, and you pick up only what you need for that night.

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Heirloom cacao

November 21, 2007

The following question came my way recently:

What do you think about the term “heirloom cacao”? What exactly does it mean? Is it just a marketing gimmick?

Heirloom cacao is definitely not a marketing gimmick, and I like the phrase a lot because it encapsulates so much in such a small phrase. When applied to cacao, heirloom means exactly the same thing it does when applied to other foods like tomatoes and potatoes or flower seeds. An heirloom cacao variety is one that existed before modern hybridization programs.

Much of the cacao grown in the world today has been hybridized in the lab (or, more accurately, nursery, because there have been no releases of genetically modified cacao into production agricultural settings). The desired characteristics chosen for these cacao hybrids are usually disease resistance and increased yield, not improved taste. When planted in monocultures (i.e., large farms of all one hybrid) the results are good for the farmer in terms of bigger harvests but generally bad for chocolate lovers because the chocolate made from most of the hybrids is boring.

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No magic numbers

Seeing through the hype of 70 percent

November 7, 2007

For as many years as I can remember, 70 percent has been a mystical number when it comes to “good” chocolate, but in fact it tells people virtually nothing that is really useful about the chocolate they are buying.

Buying chocolate based solely on cocoa percentage is sort of like buying alcoholic beverages based solely on alcohol content. An 86-proof vodka is not better than an 80-proof vodka simply because it has 3 percent more alcohol (unless, of course, your sole mission is to get drunk faster). The number 86 tells you nothing about any of the sensory characteristics of the vodka that help you make an informed buying decision.

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Taste test

Learn to taste, not simply eat, chocolate

November 1, 2007

A lot of people think that it’s strange that someone might need to learn to taste chocolate — after all, we have a lot of experience eating chocolate. And that’s the issue — most chocolate is simply eaten, not tasted.

Like many gourmet foods and beverages, it’s possible to enjoy eating chocolate without knowing much about it. However, the more we know (about any food or beverage, actually), the more we can appreciate the nuances between different offerings. There is also a great deal of difference between eating and tasting. Tasting is a deliberate process where sensory impressions are consciously identified and compared. Eating is just, well, eating. Sort of like listening to the radio in the background.

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From chocoholic to chocophile

Clay Gordon joins the blog

October 26, 2007

Editor’s note: We welcome Clay Gordon, who will blog occasionally on the topic of chocolate.

I’ve just returned from a week’s trip to our nation’s capital to promote my new book, Discover Chocolate. By day’s end I will have hosted 10 tasting events featuring a wide variety of wines and chocolates (plus one with balsamics, Parmesan cheeses, and air-cured meats, and one featuring chocolate ice creams).

One question asked at virtually every tasting event I go to is, “You have the coolest job. How did you discover your passion for chocolate?” I do have one of the coolest jobs — ever. I am a professional chocolate critic and educator, and my job involves tasting a lot of chocolate, writing about it, and educating people about how to better appreciate chocolate, alone and in conjunction with other gourmet foods. Tough, I know, but someone has to be willing to make the sacrifice.

Continue reading From chocoholic to chocophile »

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