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On Proper Chocolate - A little less than a happy high
komos
komos
On Proper Chocolate
I've never been one for hyper-enthusiastic flag waving, or for shouting "USA!USA!USA!" at inappropriate times - like when my government decides to deploy troops in response to something other than clear and present danger. I'm not exactly jingoistic, and frankly, you would not be entirely off-base to accuse me of being "just another east-coast liberal who wishes he were European." On the other hand, I also don't have any real disdain for the home country, and actually think there's a lot to recommend it. For argument's sake, let's just say I have a measured opinion. There's good and bad everywhere.

There are things that I am passionate about, to be sure, and I think that my pursuit of those passions has given me sufficient experience to call shenanigans when I come across come across a statement like this:

"The last time I was in the US I made Father buy me proper chocolate from the embasy[sic] shop so I didn't have to go near the American kind."

Yeah... because Gods of Hades forbid that the European palate be tainted by the likes of Theo Chocolates of Seattle, Vosges of Chicago, Mast Brothers of Brooklyn, or even Taza of Somerville, MA.

The first thing that came to mind when I saw this was a Whole Foods tasting I went to which ostensibly showcased American cheeses. The host was the buyer for the chain in the northeast, a Brit ex-pat who, to be fair, does a very good job of selecting and handling English cheeses. On the other hand, given that (in these parts) the chain tends to tightly wrap Loire Valley goat cheeses in plastic in an attempt to prevent them from blooming (and if they don't die in the process and do start to show signs of characteristic mold, sells them at cut-rate prices), I'm less than convinced that he has as firm a grasp on other offerings. This point was driven home as he spent the entire evening talking less about the featured cheeses than about how the featured cheeses would fall flat when compared to similar English products.

I'll be the first to say that a lot of American artisanal cheesemakers are still feeling out their craft, but if you're unable to appreciate the work being done at places like Jasper Hill Farm or the magic that is Vella Dry Jack, I am far more likely to comment on the inexperience reflected in your bias than I am to agree that All Things EuropeanTM are inherently superior. I'll also get my ruffles up if you stand in front of a class and attempt to instill that kind of narrow bias in people who are hoping for guidance from you.

Ok, so the States has nothing that quite compares to jamón serrano, the restrictions on raw milk cheese are crazy making, and our system of industrialized food production often sacrifices seasonality and regional distinctiveness for efficiency and faddishness. I get that. But if you think that American charcuterie is best represented by spiral-cut ham, American cheese is measured by vacuum-packed blocks sold under the "Helluva Good" label, or American chocolate is limited to Hershey's products (though there are even some high points there), I'm going to assume that you just don't know any better. For what it's worth, this is far better than assuming that you've got a chip on your shoulder.

In trying to wrap my mind around all of this, I'm feeling more and more that this is what it comes down to. The dismissive nature in this statement of "proper chocolate" v. "the American kind" rankles not for being a dig to some kind of latent foodie nationalism, but because there is a willful ignorance that's implied. It makes me feel like pointing out that you're never going to find proper American chocolate if you don't bother trying. And really? Since it's just not that hard, you're really doing yourself a disservice.
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Comments
oceanic From: oceanic Date: March 12th, 2008 06:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Gearhart's in Charlottesville, VA! I know I'm regionally biased (both for and against), but I've never had tastier chocolates. For reals.
komos From: komos Date: March 12th, 2008 06:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Excellent. ^^
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komos From: komos Date: March 12th, 2008 06:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
I had my doubts, too. Even assuming it was snark/humor/satire, it's not as though I've never seen the genuine sentiment. That's really what I was feeling out.

I have opinions. :\
dr_alycat From: dr_alycat Date: March 12th, 2008 06:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Amen! While I have no valid opinions on "real" cheese (I am scared of stink and they give me migraines anyway), I wholeheartedly agree that there are some tasty and impressive American chocolatiers out there. Mars and Hershey may hold the mass market, but there are tons of small companies putting out clever and delicious varieties (need I even say Moe's Bacon Bar???).

And, honestly, I wouldn't count Cadbury in the So Much Better Than Hershey's category anyway.
komos From: komos Date: March 12th, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hershey's has held the license to manufacture Cadbury's in the US since the late 80's. I don't know for sure if there is any sort of attempt to be sure that the Hershey's produced chocolate is equivalent to what's available across the pond, but we can assume that Cadbury's is content to have their name stamped on the product.
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prosicated From: prosicated Date: March 12th, 2008 06:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
There's at least 2 threads here to hop on: one is the produced forms of food, your chocolates, charcuteries, cheeses, (I'd likely add in alcohol, bread, and other Western "staples" that require specialized culinary craft) etc. & one is the raw stuff from which those foods are made, the meats, milks, & flora (farmed or wild).
I'm willing to go out on a limb & say that Europeans have a leg up on the production of many forms of food -- they've been doing many of them for longer, and much of what gets done here in the States is either in direct descent from (training or heritage), or in direct rebellion against, the European traditions, as long as we're on a Western-food-centric platform, at least.
But as for the raw inputs, the Europeans have a distinct disadvantage, they haven't got the biodiversity that the States does, we have so many more breeds of plants and animals than they do in many instances, that even when our general input production is mechanized & inferior, the potential exists for greater quality of process because of the variety of input. Corn is an American plant, cacao is an American plant, and the historical development of society's interest in them is one of trans-Atlantic shipping & limitations on bio-diversity. Sure, the States have ganked as many strains of flora & fauna from Europe as it did from the States, but many heritage breeds are kept alive here, and many cross-breeds are established here, more, according to Michael Pollan & that crowd, than across the pond.
My response to that comment, then, is not about that person doing him/herself a disservice by ignorance, it's about that person imagining that culinary traditions are static & unchanging, which is, aptly enough, a crock (mm, fermenty sour crock pickles, cheese crocks, and so on...). My complaint is not about foodie nationalism, but about the limitations of being a foodie who imagines that there's a single standard for being a foodie, or for being food.
From: aphorisic Date: March 12th, 2008 06:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
*applause* Very eloquently stated, if you don't mind me saying.
bushidokelt From: bushidokelt Date: March 12th, 2008 06:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
On brief comment, I've had the Tazo stuff from Somerville. Though it pains me to critique a hometown product, the stone grounds discs of chocolate didn't taste right. There was a grainy texture, as if the sugar hadn't been properly dissolved or had crystalized before the cocobutter. I don't know, but I had the feeling I was eating table sugar....
dr_alycat From: dr_alycat Date: March 12th, 2008 06:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
DITTO! Their packaging seems to intentionally emulate the kind of cooking chocolate you buy for making mole and such. And, after taking a bite, I could only assume that they didn't intend it to be eaten straight.
faux_eonix From: faux_eonix Date: March 12th, 2008 07:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Your statement regarding the implied willful ignorance appropriately sums up my feelings on the matter, though with significantly fewer expletives.

I will say the following:

Koreans are extremely fond of their food. They are, in fact, as a group, highly jingoistic in nature in regards to their food.
That said, most of their prepared foods are made and manufactured in the U.S., much of their produce and almost 90% of their rice is imported from the US. In addition, many Koreans will tell you that the best Korean food in the world is available in the U.S.

Most Italian pasta is made using wheat grown in the U.S., most specifically the Texas pan handle. Every year, there are contingents of Italian pasta makers who descend upon Northern Texas in droves. These Italians demand to eat outstanding Italian food. Many of them have been known to say that some of the best Italian food in the world (NOT JUST ITALY) is available in Northern Texas.

American wine can be found in most of the finest restaurants in Europe. It took a while for American wine makers to make their mark, but they are creating a superior product.

In conclusion, I would wholeheartedly agree that your statement regarding willful ignorance. If you judge a nations entire ability to create food based on what you know of its largest exporter, then I can say, without impunity that Nestle Quick is haute cuisine.
komos From: komos Date: March 12th, 2008 07:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Isn't Nestle a Swiss company?
teddywookie From: teddywookie Date: March 12th, 2008 07:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Seriously, what rational person judges a nation's capacity for culinary artistry by its airport gift shops?
bbbsg From: bbbsg Date: March 12th, 2008 07:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
there were some fantastic rums in the airport shop in St Kitts...
amalthea23 From: amalthea23 Date: March 12th, 2008 11:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I import the one chocolate bar I love from either Canada or England because American chocolate bars just don't do it for me :(
komos From: komos Date: March 13th, 2008 03:05 am (UTC) (Link)
I think there's a difference between finding something you love and seeking it out and just refusing to try anything else because it's not Canadian or English. I hope there's no shame in that, else I need to start apologizing for loving comte.
innerbrat From: innerbrat Date: March 12th, 2008 11:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
o_O


You know what? That was supposed to be a fun, easy can't-be-arsed-to-do-proper-blog picspam post. It wasn't supposed to be taken seriously or to start wank.

I'm sorry.
komos From: komos Date: March 13th, 2008 04:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Ok, but may I point out that I didn't take issue with your post? I was interested in thinking through my own reaction to the response I quoted. Perhaps she wrote in jest, and maybe this is all so much "wank" on my part. Still, it's not that uncommon to see American products/cuisine bashed as a matter of course, and I don't feel particularly apologetic about writing in response to that.

I think about food (perhaps to my detriment), write about food (see previous), and have opinions (um... yeah). Fact is, part of me felt as though I should leave it off because I didn't want to get dismissed as wanking, and I certainly didn't want any hurt feelings in the offing. At the same time, I really didn't want to censor myself. If it helps, this was more about English cheese guy and the general sentiment than anything. If not, I am sorry for causing trouble, and (if this is the case) for making you feel as though I was somehow taking a dig at you.
transcribe From: transcribe Date: March 13th, 2008 07:41 am (UTC) (Link)
mmmkay, wait.

I've been drinking,
you are talking about my company

I can't fiocus to see what about.

I will be back for this. Chocolate and Britis ex-Pat cheese??

we'll see.///
komos From: komos Date: March 13th, 2008 11:55 am (UTC) (Link)
I didn't mean to start anything, I promise. He just made me very grumpy with that tasting.
tarotchan From: tarotchan Date: March 13th, 2008 10:08 am (UTC) (Link)
I think we can all remember when the most exotic chocolate in the grocery store was Hershey's special dark. So its amazing to see how far its all come and when I curl up in the dark with a bar of Vosage its because I had to go through that step. IN many ways its like people snearing at Starbucks, but not realizing that Starbucks introduced people to 'Hey mebbe there's something else out there as far as coffee... and we don't have to get it in gas stations...'

And while we don't have jamon like spain, we gots some pretty fantastic stuff out there... proper streaky bacon. Sure there is other kinds of bacon out there, but ours isn't crap.. unless of course you go out there looking for it.

Fun topic dude.
komos From: komos Date: March 13th, 2008 12:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I still remember a time when the only California Wine that was widely available was blush in a jug put out by Earnest and Julio. There's definitely been a shift in consciousness, and as that has gained momentum, I think we've seen the development of distinctive products accompanying the recognition of things that were already there. Add some creative (and some aggressive) marketing, and you get to where we are now.

Full disclosure: I actually kind of like Starbucks, and I know at least one person who'll read this and say, "WHAT???" Despite the fact that their sizes are "big" in three different languages, and they have an annoying tendency to make up words they can copyright rather than just call something what it is - do NOT get me started on the "misto" - they make a better cup than most anything I can get downtown, and that includes the coffee bar that actually knows what an au lait is.
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