It’s Friday night. Do you curl up with a Hershey’s bar and call it a day? Or do you meet your friends for cocktails down at the bar? Why not do both and host an at-home chocolate tasting!
You can make this a fancy to-do or a casual meet-up. All you really need is chocolate, a complementary beverage, and a few good friends.
Choose Your Chocolate
Keep things simple so you don’t overwhelm your guests’ palates. Chocolatier Christopher Curtin from Éclat recommends having no more than six kinds of chocolate and mixing it up with both single-origin chocolates and truffles. You’ll want half an ounce, per person, of each chocolate to be tasted.
When deciding on specific chocolates, quality counts over quantity, so go as high-end as you can (that means you need to put down that Hershey’s bar). Look for chocolates that have a large surface area and aren’t too thick; this will allow the chocolate to melt more easily in the mouth, and therefore, taste better.
If you’re lucky enough to have a local chocolatier, start there and ask for their recommendations. Otherwise, mail order is your best bet. The single-origin Mendiants from Éclat would be perfect, or try the Single Origin Box from Askinosie Chocolate. For truffles, check out Gail Ambrosius or Vosges.
Pair it Up
When choosing your beverage pairings, be sure to match the sweetness of the chocolate with the sweetness of beverage. In fact, you’ll want the beverage to be just a little sweeter than the chocolate, or you might end up with an unpleasant aftertaste (and wouldn’t that just spoil the party?).
Don’t get stuck on wine, either. While traditional vino and dessert wines do pair well with chocolate, so do many other things. Curtin, for instance, recommends high quality tequilas and Belgian beers. If you really want to get adventurous, try pairing with coffees or teas.
If you need some ideas, the folks at Valrhona also offer a helpful list of beer and wine pairings. Or do it backwards: think about what you like to drink and find a chocolate that will pair well with it.
Serve with Style
You’ve gathered your chocolates and your beverage pairings, and you’ve sent out your invitations. Now it’s time to prepare the setting!
A few hours before the guests arrive, put the chocolate out on the counter; the intricate flavors will become most apparent when the chocolate is tasted at room temperature. You’ll also want to make sure your beverage pairings are brought up (or down) to their perfect serving temperatures.
Try setting up each chocolate and beverage pairing at its own tasting station. Include information about the chocolate and beverage pairing, and give guests paper and pens to take notes.
Tasting chocolate is like tasting any fine food; you want to seek out all its various properties and flavors. Encourage guests to use their senses: look at the chocolate and note its color; smell it; feel its texture in the mouth. Eat it slowly and let it melt on the tongue. Start with the lightest, sweetest — or lowest cocoa percentage — chocolate and work your way up to dark.
Be sure to allow a little break between chocolate courses, and offer your friends some water to cleanse their palates. This is a great time for guests to discuss what they discovered about the chocolate they just tasted using their senses, and to compare notes and opinions.
End the night with a mix of sweet and savory snacks and your beverages of choice. Above all, relax and have fun! It’s chocolate, after all.
Photo credits: David Leggett, Sally Monster, author and author.