Milk chocolate is not the enemy. It’s gotten a bad rap because, well, most of the milk chocolate out there has been pretty crummy quality. If you start with bad-tasting cocoa beans and cheap sweeteners, then throw in some preservatives and other yucky-tasting ingredients, the result isn’t going to be great. The same could be said for dark chocolate. (And I absolutely recommend saying this to the next person who tells you they only eat 85 percent dark chocolate.
When you write a book about bean-to-bar chocolate and go on tour to talk about it, everyone assumes you’re one of those Snooty Chocolate Society Members Only-type people who slowly nibble a sole square of dark chocolate after dinner. Inevitably before each event, some poor dessert-deprived soul would come up to me and whisper, “I like milk chocolate.” The truth is that I gobble up all types of chocolate — including milk chocolate.
One year for Christmas, my father decided that he was going to make edible presents for everyone in his department, namely meringue-chocolate mushrooms. With about 50 people each receiving 100 mushrooms, he obviously needed his kids’ help. “Pipe the meringue!” he’d shout if we turned on the TV. “Melt some chocolate!” he’d bark if we’d finished piping caps and stems.
There are three main cocoa varieties that are used in the production of your favorite chocolate, and the easiest way to understand the difference between them is through an analogy to various members of the band NSYNC. Let me explain. The first thing you’ll learn in the geeky chocolate world is that this type of cacao called Criollo really rocks your body. You can’t stop the feeling because it’s a sexyback, smooth ride of chocolate deliciousness.
I have a confession: I love milk chocolate. It was my first love, and it’s often my treat of choice — but as a writer specializing in chocolate, it’s a fact I only whisper to close friends after making sure the room isn’t bugged. Until now. It’s time to come out. For years milk chocolate has gotten the shaft. In fact, for years you weren’t considered a serious chocoholic if you ate anything with milk in it.
Buying a bar of chocolate shouldn’t be an academic exercise, but with the maze of labels available these days, it’s hard not to stand dumbfounded in the chocolate aisle. Not to worry! Here’s a cheat sheet that will help you look like a bona fide chocolate expert. If your label says bean to bar, it means that the maker has taken whole cacao beans and roasted, ground, and smoothed them into chocolate from scratch.
At its most basic, single origin means that the chocolate is made using cacao beans from one specific place or “origin.” That might not sound so special, but most chocolate is made using a blend of beans from a lot of different countries; companies like Hershey’s and Mars even create proprietary blends so that their chocolate always tastes exactly the same.
Lately you’ve probably heard the term “bean to bar” bandied about — especially in relation to a couple of bearded brothers in Brooklyn. But what the heck does it mean? And should you care if your chocolate is labeled “bean to bar”?