India’s First And Only Certified Chocolate Sommelier Tells Us How We May Not Be Eating Our Chocolate Right
When I first saw Nitin Chordia at Palladium’s Foodhall, he was conducting a masterclass on chocolate tasting and sampling a bar of dark chocolate before passing it on to onlookers. I stole a furtive glance around me to gauge how other people were reacting to this evident indulgence of the sweet tooth. I, for one, felt like an intruder because Chordia’s palpable glee while consuming chocolates makes you feel like you’ve stumbled upon two lovers who are clearly not to be disturbed. I am introduced to India’s first and only certified chocolate sommelier and I hang on to his every word, as I furiously take notes on how to get the most out of a bar of chocolate. A lesson of a lifetime, really.
Excerpt from an interview with Nitin Chordia….
Sweet dreams are made of this
My earliest brush with fine chocolates was when I was aiding the import of chocolates into India between 2006 and 2007. An Italian company sent me a sample with the assurance that it was a plain chocolate bar, fully aware that it was the only type of chocolate I preferred. My discerning taste buds swiftly detected traces of fruits in the bar and I called upon the company to voice my annoyance. That is when they revealed that they had not supplemented the chocolate with additional ingredients, rather the flavour notes were emanating from the cocoa beans. This episode piqued my interest and I started visiting fine chocolate makers to understand the category in more detail.
The lack of access to premium chocolate in India encouraged me to pursue opportunities in the chocolate value chain. When I was young, I was besotted with white chocolate. Now that I’m well-versed in the art of scrutinising chocolate and its benefits, they only pander to my sugar craving. My true desire for chocolate always leads me to the dark, milk-free versions.
What’s in a name?
Although a relatively new concept in India, the job description of a chocolate sommelier is much akin to that of a wine sommelier. It may sound like a dream, but it’s not all peaches and cream. You have to take the bad with the good because some days the chocolates are exquisite and, some days, not so much. Most of my time is spent proferring feedback on how to improve bad chocolates and the scrumptious ones only come my way during travels. Tasting sessions need not always be a memorable affair, though you have to keep your memory in play all the time for future reference. My job is to ensure that I understand the target audience and pair chocolates that cater to their preferences.
There is no dearth of imagination when it comes to sampling chocolate with main food courses. The explorations have just started but the trick is to challenge the expected and concoct local pairings. For instance, a South Indian rasam paired with a slightly acidic chocolate of Indian origin can be a compelling amalgamation. Chocolates and cheese are a match made in heaven. In case of beverages, I would recommend pairing them with tea, coffee, wine and whiskey.
That said, certain foods must never even share the same room with chocolate. Teaming it with fried food is a big no-no. When it comes to liquids, carbonated and sugar-filled drinks and juices should maintain a healthy distance from chocolate. Natural, neutral and non-fat drinks like coconut water or any drink that adds a complementary flavour are sound options.
At the International Chocolate Awards, the names of the chocolates and their makers are not revealed to us. That way we are not swayed by favouritism. My favourite, however, was a 70% dark chocolate made with cacao from the Dominican Republic and Fleur de Sel from Canada. Another one I cannot forget is a Brazilian-origin moulded shell, the caramel of which was made with fresh lime zest and juice reduction and a habanero chilli-infusion. Another one worth mentioning is a raspberry jelly above a Madagascan dark chocolate ganache infused with lime zest and English peppermint. These have stayed with me through my years as a judge.
In terms of favourite countries for chocolate, the best ones are largely South American countries and Madagascar. Each origin has specific characteristics. Ecuador has more flowery notes and Madagascar is naturally fruity. I like my chocolates to have lesser acidity so I go for ones with fruity notes that go great with a delicate beverage.
Among the international origins available in India, Pacari Chocolates cannot be compared to any other product. Some of their flavours like Earthloaf Mango, Red Capsicum and Chilli Raw just add a whole new layer to the experience of consuming chocolate.
To have your candy and eat it too
There is no stipulated time that will greatly enhance your experience of gorging on candy but there are certain chocolates that lend themselves better at specific times of the day. I tend to enjoy coffee chocolates in the second half of the day while the first half is reserved for the fruity counterparts. In case I’m having raw chocolate, I opt for 60-70% raw which has controlled acidity and add a few fruits into the mix for breakfast. As far as tasting goes, I am able to do better justice when I am not hungry and when my palate, body and mind are not tired.
The one-minute chocolate appreciation guide
– Allow the chocolate to come to room temperature
– Drink a sip of water or any other neutralising liquid
– Observe the chocolate carefully
– Smell the chocolate for off notes
– Place the chocolate on your tongue, against the top portion of the mouth. Do not bite into it immediately
– Let it melt while taking mental note of the texture, refinement and particle size
– Bite into it like you’ve been waiting for it all your life
– Allow the flavour to develop gradually
– Observe the aftertaste for pleasing flavour notes.