How do chocolatiers get their medals & awards?
This month, while working towards the 2017 International Chocolate Awards winners ceremony, we share some tips and behind-the-scenes insight, to help you judge the quality of chocolate, just like the jury members of international competitions, and writers of guides like Le Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat.
Professional Chocolate Tasting Experts
From these guides you can learn which chocolate ateliers around the world make the best pralines and chocolate desserts.
You can also go kinda crazy, and obviously very hungry, from reading the wonderfully crafted reviews.
These reviews can teach you the key judgment criteria – because taste is just one element of quality chocolate (yes indeed!).
Le Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat, publishes the leading guide to the most remarkable chocolate in the world.
They rate the top chocolatiers in France, Belgium and globally (ÉTRANGER category).
The Club is over 30 years old, and has 150 members, most of them pastry chefs, restaurateurs, journalists. Some are experts in other feields, like historians and photographers. What they all share is a demonstrable passion for chocolate. It is a close-knit organisation that take itself – and chocolate – very seriously.
They gather for tasting every other month, each time they focus on a different theme, such as chocolates flavored with tea, fruit and alcohol pralines, etc.
A rising force in the chocolate world is George Bernardini, who publishes The Chocolate Tester – The Reference Standard.
Bernardini writes personal reviews of over 4,000 chocolates, made by 550 brands from over 70 countries.
He ranks chocolatiers from all over the world, awarding them with “Cocoa Pods”
– from 1 to 6 Pods, like Michelin Guide awards ‘Stars’ restaurants internationally.
The “Eurovision” Contest of The Chocolate World
A major event for the chocolate business is The International Chocolate Awards.
The organisation is based in London, where the annual Chocolate Show takes place every autumn.
The competition has started taking place also in France, Peru, and Japan, as more and more people gain knowledge in the art of chocolate, and the significance of terroir.
The organisation Founder and Judging Director is Martin Christy, also Founder and Editor of fine chocolate review website Seventy%. His purpose and life’s work is to raise awareness of the quality and sourcing of chocolate, being “a complex, ancient, beneficial and spiritual food”.
Christy was joined by Dr. Maricel E. Presilla, a culinary historian, author and chef specializing in the cuisines of Latin America and Spain. Her book The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes is treasured by all leading chocolatiers.
Monica Meschini, the celebrated Italian chocolate/tea taster and Sommelier, completes the founding trio of the Internbational Chocolate Awards.
What judges are mainly looking for is subtlety of taste and textures.
The Grand Jury members taste the competing chocolates anonymously. They are served pralines in small cups, with the description of the sample.
They do a lot of tasting in a very short time, of hundreds of chocolates from all over the world.
According to the press, there were more than 1,000 products registered for the event, including more than 650 chocolate bars.
They won’t get an ounce of pity from us, though.
After they taste, they give a score from 1 to 5 in four areas:
- Quality of the ingredients
- Preparation and technique
- Creativity (and innovation)
Judges give positive and negative comments considering those categories. Then they count the scores and determine the winning chocolates in each category.
Chocolate tasting and rating – how to judge chocolate like a pro?
With your eyes, your nose, and then your tongue.
First, look attentively:
Is the shape perfect? Too perfect to be hand-made?
Investigate further – is the decoration elegant, clean, and does it dispense some clues about the filling?
Can you see the lightness of the chocolate artist’s hand on this praline?
Before taking it into your mouth, stop over at the tip of your nose: bring the chocolate close to your nose, and smell it (yes, just like you start with wine). Quality chocolate have hints of flavours, that originate in the ground where the cocoa was grown (like fruit, and even smoky Papua New Guinea dried lava), and from the manufacturing process.
Finally, place the chocolate on the tongue, and let it melt slowly, naturally. While it melts on your tongue, try to recognize all the flavours you feel.
Search for flavour nuances.
When tasting a chocolate praline, take only half a bite and look at the filling of the half that’s left on your finger.
Look at the layers, the textures of the filling.
Pay special attention to the thickness of the praline’s coating layer. If it’s slender, you can be sure you are tasting a superior quality praline.
Between different bites, it’s good to drink some water and even eat something neutral like bread, to refresh your taste buds (like some people do when they eat Sushi).
Low quality industrial chocolate and pralines will have familiar candy-like chemical flavors. You might recognize the taste of commercial vanilla extract, or feel there is too much sugar added.
The International Awards and winners are presented before a huge audience at the London Chocolate Show. This year it will take place under the beautiful art-deco glass arched ceiling at Olympia, 13-15 October.
In next month’s post Ika will share stories from the London show, as well as photos from the world’s most fabulous chocolate event – Le Salon du Chocolat 2017 in Paris (of course).