Subtle flavors in the chocolate peak and dip among hints of spiced fruit, and then they linger on the tongue. A professional nibbles and...
“Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light”
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by Mort Rosenblum
North Point Press, 290 pp., $24
Chloë Doutre-Roussel loves chocolate. She keeps her bedroom at 59 degrees to keep the chocolate she has stashed there at the correct temperature. She wears clothes with extra pockets for chocolate. She eats a pound of chocolate a day. She is the chocolate buyer for the venerable English store Fortnum & Mason. In the words of what some consider the most chocolate obsessed people on the planet, Doutre-Roussel is une chocodépante, or a chocoholic with class.
Doutre-Roussel is also a guide for Mort Rosenblum on his journey to learn about chocolate. A self-described “chocolate ignoramus,” Rosenblum has spent the past several years working on a project that would make any chocoholic envious — researching a book about chocolate.
Rosenblum’s travels took him around the globe in search of the history of chocolate. He talked to scientists to try and understand why we like chocolate. He tasted some of the world’s finest chocolates in France, Belgium, Switzerland and England. The result is his latest book, “Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light.” It follows his award-winning “Olives: The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit.”
Excerpt from “Chocolate”
Subtle flavors in the chocolate peak and dip among
hints of spiced fruit, and then they linger on the tongue.
A professional nibbles and pauses to draw out
the pleasure. I wolfed and reached for another.
Chocolate comes from a New World plant, known scientifically as Theobroma cacao, and commonly as cacao. It appears to have been cultivated by the Olmecs, a mysterious civilization that existed in what is today Mexico from 1500 to 400 B.C. The Mayans and Aztecs drank and ate cacao. Both cultures prized it highly, and the Aztecs even served cacao pods to make people worthy of sacrifice.
Cacao reached the old world in the early 1500s but did not become a desired commodity until 1585, when a boatload arrived from Veracruz. It quickly spread across Europe and became a favorite of both rich and poor.
In the United States the leading seller of chocolate was Milton Hershey, who developed his original candy bar in the late 1800s. Rosenblum devotes an entire chapter to him and his unusual vision for his workers. In his original company town he provided free medical care, built homes for workers and subsidized many basic services. He created a home for underprivileged boys and gave away his entire fortune 25 years before he died.
The author of “Chocolate” will read at 4 p.m. next Sunday at the Elliott Bay Book Co., 101 S. Main St. in Seattle. Free (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybook.com).
Hershey may be one of the largest manufacturers of chocolate in the world, but it is the small makers that star in Rosenblum’s book. At the growing end, there is Claudio da Principe, who owns two small islands just south of Nigeria. Principe produces 3,000 tons of cacao per year and has had to rethink nearly every process of cacao production to create his unique beans.
At the production end are a variety of French, Belgium, American, English and Swiss producers who lovingly produce exquisite chocolate. Rosenblum is at his most passionate when describing these specialists and their chocolates. The flavors are “peppered with spicy peaks and only a hint of vanilla,” “redolent of smoky herbs and blond tobacco,” or so good that they “sent happy pinprick signals to corporeal outposts.” Not terms one would hear when describing most chocolate we eat. Although Rosenblum is most passionate about this group, they tend to run together. The chocolate is all good. The makers are all devoted to the art of fine chocolate, eschewing anything that sounds like crass commercialization or misuse of cacao beans.
In spite of my poorly defined taste buds (I am not a huge chocolate fan), I did enjoy “Chocolate.” Rosenblum is a strong writer who clearly loved doing research and loves chocolate.