If you only read one chocolate book, put Mort Rosenblum’s Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light on the top of your list. It’s not as historically detailed as Coe’s magnificent The True History of Chocolate, and won’t teach you the secrets of chocolate making like the Minifie tome Chocolate, Cocoa, and Confectionery, but it condenses out some of the best parts of all those books, and combines them with vividly reported journeys to the corners of the chocolate world. Rosenblum travels to Oaxaca, Hershey, France, the Ivory Coast, and where ever else he needs to go to understand how cacao is grown, chocolate is made, and confections are enjoyed.
I was moved to comment on the book by his tale of Claudio Corallo, who is certainly the Indiana Jones of the chocolate world. Rather than being content just making chocolate, Corallo has made his home on Principe, a remote island near Sao Tome, where he, through sheer force of will, it seems, is remaking one of the original African cacao plantations. Chocolate blogging seems a little tame after reading about months spent in a roofless house, digging a farm out of antique Portugese ruins.
Rosenblum spends the time to travel to cacao farms in places like Principe and the Ivory Coast, and outside of the exoticism of the locale, reminds us that chocolate is, at it’s core, made by hard, dangerous, underpaid agricultural labor. And, yes, most food is made by hard working farmers. However, in my summers working soybeans and corn in Iowa, I never had to deal with green mambas, black mambas, Gaboon vipers, or armed teenage rebels in Donald Duck masks.
Addition: One interesting technical observation is hidden in the Claudio Corallo chapter of this book. The early in the chapter, Corallo offers the author a raw cacao bean, noting that if they are handled correctly, they are pretty tasty. This takes on some significance later when it’s revealed that Corallo is fermenting his beans for upwards of 15 days, which is at least twice what the “textbook” fermentation period for Forestero beans. The third clue is that Corallo’s conch times are very short. Normally, conching is a long process, as it improves texture, but also gets rid of things like acetic acid in the chocolate. It appears that Corallo has found that a long fermentation process will cut the acid (leading to the tasty raw bean) and allow a shorter conch time. This may leave more flavor compounds in the chocolate. Definitely worth experimentation at some point!