For his new book, Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux), AP special correspondent Mort Rosenblum trekked to nearly a dozen countries to trace the substance from source to store. Here, he tells Travel + Leisure which country has the most refined taste, and how to fall in love over a box of chocolates.
1. Who makes the best chocolate in the world?
If I were stuck on a desert island and had to choose a caterer, it would probably be Jacques Genin from Paris. Any of the French mastersfrom Michel Chaudun to Jean-Paul Hévin and Maison du Chocolatare great, though.
2. Are there any good chocolatiers in Hershey-fed America?
Its changing really quickly in the States. The same thing happened with olive oil a few years ago. Americans went from buying gloppy, heavy, yellow oil to artisanal products. Now theyre really starting to understand good chocolatetheres Recchiuti, Scharffen Berger, and Guittard. You dont have to be an expert, but exploring the high end of the range will help you discover what you like and why you like it. And if you end up liking Snickers bars, theres nothing wrong with that.
3. So American tastes are evolving?
Americans are definitely expanding their palates. Thats why good chocolate is becoming easier to find and more popular in this country, especially on the West Coast. I think Michael Recchiutis chocolate stands up to any European chocolate. Its sweeter than you might find in France because thats what the market demands, but his quality and talent are not lacking.
4. Where is the worst chocolate in the world found?
Well, theres a reason I named the chapter on England In the Land of Rose and Vile Creams. That should give you a clue. Its funny: although chocolate is changing rapidly in America, in Britain its not. Chocolate lovers in Britain can just go to France to buy quality stuff, so I guess their own stores havent evolved.
5. What was the oddest taste you encountered?
In São Tomé I was chewing on raw nibs of chocolate. They had a rich, coffee-and-cinnamon flavor. But real Mexican mole was also astounding, You combine some 27 ingredients, including sesame, chile and just about everything else, and then you add the chocolate. When you sample mole, you realize how versatile chocolate is.
6. What do you think of mixing chocolate with surprising flavors?
I discovered people pairing chocolate with fish; Jean-Paul Hévin in France puts it with really strong cheeses. And then there are the pairings with tequila or strong chile. Im not really a fan. I dont even like coffee or liqueurs in my chocolate. I think the point is to savor the chocolate. So for me, the closer it stays to pure, the better.
7. How much chocolate did you eat while researching this book?
I consumed tons. Surely more than my body weight, which is 140 pounds. Probably several times that.
8. Do you feel any guilt about that?
Not in the slightest. I mean, youre eating a food that can be good for you, thats produced by people (the cacao growers) who make good use of the money they get from selling their crop. And it tastes really great. Its perfect for sharing with friends. I cant think of anything negative about chocolateother than the guilt our parents stuffed into us.
9. So youre saying that chocolate is healthful?
Theres a difference between candy and chocolate. The dark stuff is good for you. Adding all the ingredients to get those gooey candy bars full of sugarthats what makes it unhealthful.
10. Is chocolate an aphrodisiac?
There are studies that say it doesnt contain any real aphrodisiacsbut it can make you fall in love with the person who made it.
Although Rosenblum sees promise for American chocolate, when it comes to the finest dark concoctions, all roads lead back to the city of lights. Here, Rosenblums favorite Parisian chocolatiers:
Chocolaterie Patrick Roger
108 Blvd. St.-Germain
18 Rue St.-Charles
231 Rue St.-Honoré
La Maison du Chocolat
225 Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré
149 Rue de l'Université