Learning about and exploring the many tastes of chocolate with chocolate travel expert Doreen Pendgracs
What could be finer than an evening learning about chocolate over a three-course dinner, each of which features chocolate? Earlier this year, I interviewed chocolate travel expert Doreen Pendgracs about the “Exploring the Many Faces of Chocolate” dinner classes she hosts at the McNally Robinson Booksellers Community Classroom in Winnipeg, Manitoba. On September 20, 2014, I had the opportunity to attend one of these dinners myself. It was fantastic. Doreen started the evening by talking to us about how chocolate grows and where it comes from. She continued to share chocolate information over the next three hours in between dinner courses. The menu had been prepared by Prairie Ink Restaurant’s Chef Karen Neilson.
Chocolate comes from the cacao tree. The cacao tree is grown on mountainsides within 10 to 20 degrees from the equator. The trees produce cacao pods inside which you’ll find cacao beans, commonly called cocoa beans today. Like coffee and chocolate, cacao is a terroir plant, meaning the area and the terrain in which it is grown gives the fruit a distinctive flavour. Cocoa beans from Ecuador have a different taste than cocoa beans from Peru, for example.
Doreen let us know that chocolate in its purest form has many health benefits. But it has to be a high-percentage dark chocolate that has not been heat-processed. Flavonoids are preserved when the cocoa beans are roasted at low temperatures. She suggested we look on the chocolate package for ingredients of cocoa mass, cocoa butter, and a small amount of cane sugar or honey. Organic is best. The more cocoa butter, the creamier the chocolate. Milk chocolate is made by adding milk to the ingredients. Most of the chocolate bars we are familiar with are actually chocolate candy with a high percentage of sugar. The cocoa powder we use in baking is crushed cocoa with the cocoa butter removed. It may still contain flavonoids providing it hasn’t been Dutch-processed, a commercial technique which uses an alkalizing agent to reduce bitterness.
We learned about chocolatiers and chocolate makers. A chocolatier creates artisan, hand-made chocolates from processed chocolate. A chocolate maker works directly with cocoa beans to create chocolates.
Doreen Pendgracs is the author of Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate. Chocolatour is her chocolate travel blog. You can read the interview I did earlier this year here.
This was the fourth “Exploring the Many Flavours of Chocolate” dinner. New menus were created for each one, except for two that were held very close together and shared the same menu. The food was superb, the company of the other guests pleasant, and the information Doreen enthusiastically shared about chocolate and her own chocolate travel experiences fun and information. All in all, a delightful evening. Doreen and McNally Robinson have hosted other dinners since I attended this one. To find out if future dinners are planned check the McNally Robinson Booksellers Community Classroom. I’m told the classes fill up quickly. After attending one, I am not surprised.