after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Chocolate Taste-off: Vosges vs. the World

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t says: Back when I was a wee one, I ate Hershey’s chocolate bars. They were yummy. They had that classic Hershey’s texture where no matter what temperature it was outside, it was soft and flexible – almost like a fudge or really thick ganache. Flash forward 20 years, and I’m still eating Hershey’s chocolate bars … how can you make s’mores without ’em? I guess I don’t consider them to be “fine chocolate”, but I still consider them as tasty … “things”. At a recent Philly food tour, I was introduced to better chocolates and was intrigued … but hadn’t had the chance to really explore these fancier chocolates …

One day a month or so ago, lc sent us some Vosges chocolate, which was flavored with bacon. She thought we’d get a kick out of the concept. I did! My response was “ooooooo, bbaaccoonn …”. But g’s was, “oooooo, Vvoossggeess …”. I had never heard of Vosges, aside from the mountains. g tells me it’s some really nice, really expensive chocolate. I took her word for it. I imagine real choco-philes would probably snub Vosges (much like they snub Max Brenner), instead preferring some kind of chocolate that was had from a certain cocoa plant that was fertilized with a certain type of manure from a sacred cow that fed on a blessed field of grass. Whatever. I was going to judge for myself just how “good” these chocolates were; would they fulfill the ultimate criteria: would I buy it again?

A few weeks passed and I still had not yet tasted the bacon chocolate – I kept holding off until we got more other chocolates to taste with it. Of course, I kept forgetting to pick up other chocolates when I saw them (e.g. at Naked Chocolate Cafe). Then g and I just happened to run into a store in Kennett Square that had a clearance on Vosges – buy one, get one free. I considered it but was not super-convinced it was worth $8 for two bars ($8 each, normally). Then the manager gave me a piece of the Vosges chocolate that featured chiles. I put it in my mouth and was greeted with a nice bitter dark chocolate. As it slowly melted in my mouth, the taste of chocolate increased as the bitterness faded – it was delicious! But then came the heat. Now, I like heat, and I even like heat with my chocolate – but it was a little distracting – it just screamed “I’m hot and I’m here and I killed the chocolate – what are you gonna do about it?”. So I decided that I wanted to try more Vosges but vetoed getting the chile one – we picked up one creole bar (flavored with chicory, espresso, and cocoa nibs) and one naga bar (flavored with curry and coconut milk). The stage was set – we were going to have a four-way taste-off … or so I thought …

Two more weeks passed, and I found myself at the local drug store staring at Cadbury chocolate bars that were on sale for $1. g and I have a thing for Cadbury fruit-and-nut bars (especially the one that kp brought back from England, i.e. not made by Hershey’s), so I was thinking of throwing it in the mix. I was sold when I saw the “2009 Chef’s Choice” or some other meaningless award advertised on the package. Then, a few days later, in Picnic (I needed some eggs and the drug store was too far away), I had to buy some more stuff so that I could use my credit card. They had some other chocolate bars – these were by “Chocolove”! Swayed by the goofy name, I bought one that included crystallized ginger and another that was “cherry and chilie” (I hate spelling it like that). Now, it was going to be a 7-chocolate tasting! A random Thursday night came around and I figured that I should put this tasting to rest or risk buying more chocolate “for the sake of the blog”. I was totally ready for it. g was also psyched … but she fell asleep before I was done opening each of the packages (she’s narcoleptic like that). It was just me and the chocolate (I saved her some) …

That's a lot of chocolate!

The chocolate's ready!

I couldn’t figure out how one should go about properly tasting chocolate. For wine, you normally start with those that have less body/flavor/tannin and increase – so light, herbaceous whites, followed by fruitier, intense whites, followed by light reds, followed by hit-you-in-the-mouth reds. For chocolate, do you go by the bitterness or by the sugar? I was afraid to go for the milk chocolate first because then the dark ones might come off as far too bitter. I was also afraid of getting full if I tried to save the Vosges for last (that’s a LOT of chocolate). So I did the four Vosges at random, had a Cadbury interlude, and then finished with the last two (which I figured would be sweeter than the Vosges).

The creole bar was first. In retrospect, this was very dumb because it was the darkest of the bunch (I think), but random is random – so that’s the way it was. As soon as I put it in my mouth, all I could taste was “yikes, that’s bitter”. It was very bitter. But there was something about this bitter – it didn’t taste like chocolate. It was something else … I remembered the espresso … there we go … that’s what it was – the flavor of bitter coffee was up first … then the chocolate took over as the bitterness faded. Next came a slow building up of coffee flavor that eventually dissipated, returning once again to chocolate, but now it had a very enjoyable sweetness. It was a rollercoaster for my mouth – I enjoyed it very much. There was also something crunchy in there … not sure what it was (?cocoa nibs?), but it was fun to munch on. I did taste this again later, just to make sure the tasting note was consistent … it was.

Next was the Naga bar. Even before I put it into my mouth, my nose caught a whiff of the curry – it was strong, but delightful. I thought I knew what was coming – it was going to be a blissful marriage of savory and sweet … Unfortunately, what I thought was coming was actually better than what came. Yes, there was curry flavor, and yes there was chocolate (more of a milky, sweeter chocolate than the creole – ?coconut milk?), but I just didn’t think the two played well with one another. It reminded me of the Vosges chocolate-chile sample I had in the store – both flavors were there and vivid, but that doesn’t mean it’s a great combo. Would you dip your chocolate in curry?

The bacon bars were next. I had high expectations. Having made bacon-chocolate-chip cookies, I knew this was going to be fun. I bit into the milk chocolate bacon bar, immediately running into something with crunch. It was bacon. I was surprised! I didn’t think that it’d actually have bacon in it – does that mean it should be refrigerated? No idea … In any case, the bacon flavor was profound; the chocolate barely touched the bacon flavor – that was weird (it made me sad). Then a bacon bit got stuck under my tongue (it made me mad). Fortunately, the second bite, which had far fewer bacon bits, had more chocolate-bacon balance – woohoo! I found the chocolate to be very nice (texturally and taste-wise), but it was a little on the sweet side. I looked forward to the dark chocolate …

The flavor of the dark chocolate bacon bar swung the balance in favor of chocolate – the bacon flavor was only there in the presence of a hint of salt – which was nice with the chocolate, but in honesty, the bacon bits tasted more like salted nuts than actual bacon. The bacon flavor only really came on well after I had swallowed the chocolate. It was good, but I want some more bacon up front. In any case, it was very interesting to see what the effect of the chocolate had on the taste of the different bacon bars.

Yeah, Cadbury chocolate bar that was next … dumb idea. It tasted like a sweet, sugary mess. It almost tasted gross which is weird, because it’s normally not a bad chocolate at all – for $1 it was a steal! I guess its cacao percentage just couldn’t stand up to the bolder chocolates I had had up until then … For a split second, I felt like a full-fledged chocolate snob!

The chocolate-cherry-chile bar hit me in the face with cherry from the get-go. And then I bit into something soft – presumably a cherry. Splash! My palate got another dose of sweet cherry. I was caught offguard and regretting that chomp (but I liked the texture – it was the first squishy thing of the evening). But then the chile flavor turned on and saved the day, adding some refreshing spice to my mouth. The only thing – I really didn’t get a whole lot of chocolate – some was there (more up front with the cherry), but it didn’t last. Still – cherry and chile was a fun combo – I think I’d eat it as a 2pm snack for a little fun pick-me-up – like one would eat some sour patch kids or something.

Finally … the last chocolate of the night (well, except for having to go back and re-taste the creole bar). I faced the chocolate and crystallized ginger. I put it in my mouth, not knowing if I could handle the perfume of ginger if it was turned up as high as the cherry was in the bar before. Lo and behold, it was quite tasty! Just the right amount of sweet and tangy ginger to balance the lush and bitter chocolate. Why didn’t I think of this? It’s so simple! While perhaps not as complex an evolution of flavors as the creole bar (ginger and chocolate turned on at the same time and ended at the same time, with the sugar from the ginger buffering the bitter from the chocolate), I was still super-happy. I could totally see a crystallized ginger-dark-chocolate-chip cookie coming out of this. I’m going to have to try it soon.

And I guess that’s it … Summary? The chocolate, itself, in the Vosges bars was great! I think the other flavors that were incorporated ranged from great to ick (*sighs* curry). I think that it’s probably a good idea to sample a variety pack and decide for yourself which of these flavor combos works the best. Nevertheless … I still recommend the bacon for everyone (even though I preferred the Creole one) – if for no other reason than it’s a great conversation starter.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

4 April 2010 at 10:03pm

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