“Things are seldom as they seem” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore rang true as we explored England’s chocolate in Oxford, Birmingham, the Lake District and York in March of 2009. Our search for historic and significant chocolate had us schlepping 262 miles to the beautiful but rainy town of Kendal in the Lake District to visit the “Famous 1657 Chocolate House,” only to learn that while the building dates as far back as 1657, (with plenty of remodeling), chocolate has been sold there only in the last very few years, mediocre chocolate at that. Sure did not seem that way from the website.
At Cadbury World
Expecting more chocolate gravitas at Cadbury World in Birmingham, we encountered a faded imitation of Hershey Park replete with old style rides and technology, coated in overly sweet chocolate giveaways. Maybe I should not complain since Hersheypark provided no samples at all. In seemingly surprising ways, Hershey and Cadbury their business approaches, religious backgrounds, excitement about tourism and historical roots. Over the years, the two companies mingled other areas as well. In the early days Milton Hershey modeled some aspects of his business after Cadbury. Since 1988 the Hershey Company holds the license for manufacturing Cadbury chocolate products in the United States. Hershey almost bought Cadbury in 2010.
“So, what is the best chocolate? What is your favorite chocolate?” they ask me.
True, there are so many options, each wrapped in tantalizing packaging and full of calories.
I explain that I do not really have a favorite brand so much as a preferred cacao percentage. Generally I like the 70% cacao range–with its strong chocolate flavor, minus sugary sweetness. I dislike the bitterness of higher percentages. In the 70% range a small amount satisfies cravings. Because of the cream and sugar content, I tend to avoid truffles, though I can certainly be enticed to savor them now and then. It is fun to explore the subtle differences among brands and also in the rarified single origin bars now proffered by several companies; they often are very distinct.
Some of the 70% chocolate stands out for flavor and for price. Generally, I like the pricing for dark chocolate at Trader Joe’s where the high quality French Valrhona and the Venezuelan Occumare bars sell at really reasonable prices. The TJ’s brand of chocolate, a Swiss product, is not bad either.
Our neighborhood Chocolate Room at the local Food Emporium (68th and 3rd in NYC), populates a space of approximately 600 square feet with a shifting selection of chocolate related products from around the world, along with the opportunities to taste bars, truffles, barks, and beverages. On occasion they give away samples of their treats or chocolate drinks, which I have happily enjoyed. Valhrona runs chocolate demos there. Labels identify cost per pound which makes it very easy to note that prices there can escalate to fifty and sixty dollars a pound. Generally, I aim for the lower priced bars put out by Chocolove or Endangered Species. Or, I buy the Valrhona bulk chunks, probably the best buy anywhere. On other chocolate cost saving outings, Mark aims for the Egyptian owned shop, Melange, on 1st where they sell selections of the fancier single origin Valhrona for about half price.
Truth is, when you love it all so much, it is tough to chose a “favorite.”