This week I was lucky enough to help with the judging of the International Chocolate Awards in York. I was invited by a remarkable lady called Monica Meschini who is from Italy and helped to set the awards up. I actually met her in Spain earlier in the year at the "Parabere Forum" which was all about women's vision in gastronomy. A really humbling and eye opening event. Anyway, Monica is (unbelievably) as chatty as me and we talked about chocolate. She ended up inviting me to York to help judge the awards which was absolutely amazing, although at the end of the weekend I did feel like I was ready to be rolled home and shortly go into a sugar coma!

Now you're probably like me, a sucker for a bar of chocolate which your gobble down in seconds. But when you learn about the characteristics of good chocolate you soon find your palate appreciating better chocolate and a lot less of it. For me personally I really like Green & Blacks and Original Beans ... but by learning a bit more I now appreciate them even more. Of course I can't talk about the chocolate that we were judging but instead I thought I would give a little guide for you to do some chocolate tasting yourself! You'll be suprised how your view of chocolate begins to change.

Cacao Pod

Let's begin and set the scene. Sat with a few friends in a lovely quiet road (no distractions) all you have to focus on is tasting and appreciating the wonderful thing that is chocolate. Before you start make sure that the room you're in is cool and odourless (chocolate picks up flavours and can become contaminated). If you're in the same room you just ate chicken kievs in I would strongly advise you to change rooms. No one wants to be eating Garlic flavoured chocolate!!

Next, make sure your palate is clean. This is one of the most important things I learnt. We used soupy wet polenta as a palate cleanser - not the most tasty thing Ill admit but it does the job! Or you could just have a little bread or sparkling water. Your chocolate should be at room temperature because if it's being tasted straight from the fridge it will hinder your ability to detect the flavour. Get it out a few hours before your tasting to allow it to come to room temperature.

Start by smelling and looking at the chocolate. The aroma of the chocolate is really important. It's going to start getting all of your senses going. Aroma is a key component of flavour. Its nice to compare the smell and taste after and if it carried through. Once you've captured the smell you should focus on the visual aspect. It should have a nice shine where the tempering process has happened, and shouldn't have any white marks. This is called bloom and is affected by moisture on the sugar or fat.

Finally, the tasting itself. The first thing I learnt was that when you try chocolate you should let it melt in your mouth. That way you get all of the sensations and flavours of the bar. Chocolate tasting isn't too disimilar from wine tasting. In fact the flavour profile in dark chocolate exceeds those in red wine. It's really important to remember that every palate differs BUT you should still pick up the same sensations. It's a simple case of whether you like them of not!

By letting the chocolate melt you release all of the cocoa butter and flavours evenly in your mouth. If you munch it you only release the sugary flavours and the bitterness if there is any, so you miss out on a lot of the beautiful flavours. Depending on the origin of the bean you will get different flavours - some may have citrus notes, others more woody, and some fruity. You tend to know if the chocolate isn't great if you get a strong sensation of coconut and if it has tannings (you'll recognise this sensation as your pallate goes very dry and bitter). This could be because the beans were not fermented properly or were over roasted.

Once you have finished the tasting it's great to discuss with your friends over what you enjoyed, did you pick up on nice fruity characteristics, was it a bad batch of coconutty flavour and bitterness, did it leave you mouth feeling clean or dry and tacky, etc?

Chocolate Truffles

My advice is have a go! I mean what better way to catch up with friends than over chocolate! And I notice that BoroughBox have just added Wicked & Wonderful chocolates to the website, which is a brand owned by Ben Axford, a former Masterchef finalist. Got to be worth a try!

See you next time.

Chef Pril X