Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chocolate Month: February Musings

I started the year by looking simultaneously backward and forward. Such a back-and-forth glance is an expression not only of my general inability to catch up but of the inherent tension at work here between journalistic and imaginative instincts. Put another way, novelty is overrated while renewal (while nearly impossible) is inspired. So, for the second month in a row, I will attempt to reinvigorate resources from years past.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Tim McCollum at Madecasse, asking about their "tree-to-bean-to-bar" chocolate made in Madagascar. My response is that I savored each carefully packaged and labeled sample that Tim sent but I undermined the scientific tasting process by indulging myself in them before bed, letting the 63-70% products mingle among the books on my nightstand. I will say that I agree with all of the characterizations of the chocolate that Tim included in his letter to me: the not-yet-released 75% is more subtly roasted (and thus packs a more nuanced flavor) than the currently-available 75%, and the 67% is the most impressive of the lot. If asked to give my own analysis, I would say that the 67% has a flavor that unexpectedly suggests raspberries. However, I'm reluctant to take that kind of tastes-like cataloging any further today. My reasons lie in the conclusion to the ekphrastic essay by poet Mark Doty Still Life with Oysters and Lemon:

What makes a poem a poem, finally, is that it is unparaphrasable. There is no other way to say exactly this; it exists only in its own body of language, only in these words. I may try to explain it or represent it in other terms, but then some element of its life will always be missing.

Metaphor expands, embodies creativity. Clinical explanation reduces, boils down insight to keywords. To call my taste experience "raspberry" is the opposite of rendering the inchoate, ineffable sensory experience of tasting in metaphor. I would rather say it sent me moving through a viscous somnambulance. You can invent the raspberries on your own.

I've received a number of other tidings since the beginning of 2009, among them, word of stalwart Valrhona's naming of San Francisco chocolatier Michael Recchiuti as their American chocolate "ambassador," timed to the release of what I understand are some brand new blends and bars. (Recchiuti, along with a lovely Guatemalan cacao farmer named Neto Porras and several other chocolate professionals in several countries, no doubt has come to the conclusion that I'm either deeply disturbed or deeply ungrateful since I've been utterly out of touch since our last meetings--please accept my apology, guys--I was just looking for the right words.) Amano has a new chocolate (in new packaging) too: it's called Jembrana. The sultry New Orleans chocolatiers Sucre sent me an early Valentine: a box packed with half a dozen ganache-filled hearts. And Ten Speed press sent up a flair about their new publication, called Give the Bitch Back Her Chocolate. It's a series of word-and-vintage-image pairings, most more sleazy than seductive, and I hope you won't make such a very direct connection between this writer and that title, but the collection give me a wonderful image to ruminate on.

As I take another look back, I recall that Scharffen Berger (whose Ibex logo has served as my muse cast in chocolate) announced its sale to Hershey within days of me starting this blog over three years ago. This post is timed to the news that Hershey will close the beloved Berkeley plant. I mourn the loss absolutely, but prefer to focus on smaller pleasures. Like metaphors that may or may not include raspberries.


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