Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Amano Sleuthing and Other Chocolate News

Time passes so quickly, even over the summer in Pittsburgh, when (most) classes are out and (some) days are filled with sunshine. Time moves quickly in chocolate news, too. Just over the past couple weeks, while my History and Literature of Chocolate students and I have been tracing the developed-world path that sixteenth-, seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century cacao beans traveled fueled by colonial policies in the developed world, Salon posted a feature on the Bostonian-Oaxacan chocolate company Taza (which we sampled during our class session on "authenticity" in Mexican chocolate), my barista cousin Julie passed along the New York Times' piece on a coffee-chocolate combo bar newly issued by Sahagun (another company that fuses traditional Mesoamerican chocolate practices with the ethos of the contemporary American artisanal food scene), the LA Times published an encouragingly balanced account of recent studies linking chocolate to good health, and the Daily Mail in the UK looked into changes at Cadbury since the company was swallowed up by Kraft earlier this year.

Yesterday in chocolate school, we considered what Johnny Depp, in his roles in Chocolat and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had to teach us about chocolate's transformation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries from a passionate and folksy indulgence to a sanitized, industrially-produced treat. Interesting, I suggested, that the proverbial chocolate factory tour, whether in Wonka World or Hershey World, doesn't tell you a lot about the roots of the trees from which the chocolate bars grow. Though the rhetoric of chocolate production is changing, the traditional chocolate factory narrative is that liquid chocolate emerges from enormous stainless steel vats ready to be molded as if by immaculate conception or spontaneous generation.

Twenty-first century chocolate makers like Amano, however, flaunt the origins of their cacao beans, celebrating the Ocumare, Sambirano, and Guayas regions. But Amano owner Art Pollard is forgoing his usual transparency in order to hold a contest in which fans can guess the identity of the newest bar. Of all of the people who guess the geographical origin of the next Amano bar correctly, the Utah-based chocolate maker will select one winner to receive a year's supply of Amano bars from cacao-growing countries around the world. Art's not providing too many clues, so I suggest that you do some outside research (try the article on "The Flavors and Aromas Of Varietal Chocolate" at The Nibble, as well as Amano's own blog).


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