Chocolate and coffee have a lot in common. They have similar rich/bitter flavor profiles, are based on ground, roasted beans, and there’s no end of debate between the people that want it straight up and those that want milk, cream, or sugar added. Milk and sugar lovers in the coffee world can order a latte at any high-end coffee house with their head held high. In the chocolate world, though, milk chocolate sort of gets second-class treatment.
The origin of that treatment may stem from the fact that milk chocolate is an inherently modern, industrial product. Readers of this blog (or any chocolate text) will recall the first law of chocolate: water is the enemy. You add water to chocolate, and you get a seized, grainy, concrete mess. What is milk full of? Water! It wasn’t until 1875 when Daniel Peter, a Swiss candlemaker and inventor found a way to dry milk to a powder and add it chocolate. This addition does two things to dark chocolate made with the three basic ingredients (cacao mass, cocoa butter, and sugar): it adds milky flavors (and possibly caramel flavors if the milk sugars have been heated) and the milk fat breaks up the crystallization of the cocoa butter, making the chocolate softer. The result is the gentle melt and mild flavor that most people associate with chocolate.
Commercial milk chocolate can be as little as 10% cacao mass, so the chocolate flavors can get lost in a maze of sugar and milk. Sometimes this is enjoyable, as with Cadbury milk chocolate, which is loaded with caramel flavors from heated milk sugars. What about if you want a milk chocolate that also has the more powerful cacao notes that higher end dark chocolate has? Some of the artisan manufacturers now sell high-cacao content, single origin milk bars that are quite good, and a real departure from mass market milk. These range from the 35% E. Guittard Orinoco bar to the Valrhona’s Jivara Lait to the much darker, higher cacao bars like the mighty Bonnat Java, with 65% single origin cacao content.
I’ve just finished some Bonnat Java, and it’s an extraordinary milk chocolate. There’s not a lot of milk flavor, but it has a great, intense chocolate taste with the yielding melt of a milk chocolate. It’s less bitter than a 65% dark bar would be, but preserves the stronger aromatic notes usually found in a good dark chocolate. For milk chocolate eaters, it’s a great introduction to artisan chocolate.