Chocolate from a wine lovers POV
Chocolate like wine is a result of fermentation. Once the cacao has been picked the pods are split open and placed on banana leaves on the ground, in pits or in containers. Fermentation takes anywhere from 2-9 days depending on the type and grade of pod. As in wine natural yeasts eat the sugars found in the fleshy beans and produce heat which toasts the beans by breaking down natural proteins into amino acids and carbohydrates into simple sugars. The alcohol produced is converted by acetobacters (the ones responsible for volatile acidity in wine) creating acetic acid. They can also carry out a second fermentation (more along the lines of Ripasso than Champagne) where fruit mash is added to the beans 2 days after the fermentation process starts. The fresh native yeast and sugars from the fruit start a second fermentation resulting in the flavour compounds of the fruit being drawn into the cacao beans. Once fermentation is finished, the beans are left in the sun to roast before being packed up for shipping to the chocolate manufacturers.
Originating in the Amazon basin with the Maya, Toltec, and Aztecs, the Spaniards are credited for bringing it back to Europe. Africa is now considered the leader for Cacao beans with 70% total production coming from West Africa. Côte d’Ivoire with 2,200,000 tons annually has the most production with Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Tongo producing an additional1.55 million Tonnes annually.
When selecting chocolate, I look for fair trade as while there are many people working on the production side the conditions can in some cases be unbelievably bad for workers. You can also research the chocolate maker to find the right one for you. After the beans have been roasted and shipped to the chocolate factory they are processed (called Crushing & Winnowing) here the nibs are separated from the shells. The nibs are then ground up creating the chocolate mass or liquor. This substance is pressed to extract the cocoa butter, leaving a dry cake behind. It is the cake that is ground up to create cocoa powder and is also known as chocolate solids or mass. Cocoa butter is a fat that is pale yellow in colour and melts just below body temperature. It’s the cocoa butter that gives the melt in your mouth experience with chocolate. White Chocolate is cocoa butter with milk and sugar added and should be a minimum of 20% cocoa butter. Milk Chocolate should be at least 30% chocolate solids with cocoa butter, milk, and sugar. Dark chocolate should be at least 45% chocolate solids with cocoa butter no milk or sugar added. The percentage of chocolate solids is a great indicator for quality. The chocolate solids are what give the bitter chocolate flavour. Superior quality dark chocolate usually starts at 70% solids. Make sure to look at the ingredients if you are purchasing dark chocolate for a vegan or lactose sensitive diet as some dark chocolate can have milk powder added in.
I know that I have not even touched on wine pairing with chocolate which can be a challenge. I think that understanding the process and the making of the chocolate will help with pairings. Feel free to contact me if a chocolate and wine pairing event is of interest to you. As I will require another post to cover that topic.