Doreen Pendgracs of Manitoba, Canada, probably has the sweetest job on earth: She is conducting copious research to find the world's best chocolate. In connection with her upcoming memoir, Chocolatour, A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate, the chocolate-loving author and travel writer has interviewed dozens of chocolatiers and chocolate makers in ten countries.
Life Goes Strong interviewed Doreen about her journey and what she has learned thus far:
How are chocolate and travel connected—-and what made you decide to write about the connection?
I've always had a strong passion for fine food, wine and chocolate—and loved to travel as well. There have been so many books written about wine travel, but never any written about where to go to find the most interesting, exotic, or tasty chocolate experiences. After realizing that chocolate tastes differently depending on where it's from, I realized I had a story to tell. There's actually a science to understanding and creating these flavor nuances, too. I have the chocolate makers of the world to thank for having taken the time to explain that to me.
Where have your travels taken you? What are some of the differences in chocolate among various countries?
As virtually every part of the world makes chocolate, I had to narrow my search a bit or it would take forever. (Not that I have any objection to eating fine artisanal chocolate for the rest of my life.) But I had to cut to the chase for the sake of my readers—-so I chose to profile the major European countries that have had the biggest impact on the world of chocolate.
This includes Spain (the Spanish were the first to bring cacao beans to Europe and the country continues to pride itself in making a very pure form of chocolate); Belgium, Switzerland and Holland (known for a creamier, silkier style of chocolate); and France and Italy (known for a darker, purer style of chocolate with an intensity of flavor.)
During the course of my research, I found that the United Kingdom really has raised the bar when it comes to excellence, and as London is now home to some of the finest chocolatiers in the world, I feature them as well. British chocolatiers are the most experimental of the lot and are really creating amazing flavor infusions so you never get bored and can find a chocolate to suit every mood.
I've traveled to South America to stay with cacao farmers, learn about the harvest, and eat chocolate made right where the cocoa is grown—-and have met many North American chocolatiers who are experimenting with all sorts of flavors in their chocolate creations. The most unique chocolate I've eaten is camel's milk chocolate from Dubai. I can't say it's one of my favorites, but it's certainly interesting and definitely reflects the culture of the land.
What have you learned about chocolate from your travels?
I've learned there is no such thing as a "favorite" chocolate, just as there is no such thing as a favorite wine (for me, anyway.) Our taste buds are different, depending on what we've eaten or drunk that day. Our preference for a specific kind of chocolate is dependent on our mood, whom we are enjoying the chocolate with, and the occasion, etc. Experiment! Don't be afraid to try different chocolates from around the world. Keep notes, or develop a chocolate journal just as many wine connoisseurs have a wine journal.
I have been doing plenty of tastings with friends and family, as I've been fortunate to have chocolate makers from around the globe send me samples. I've learned that those who prefer bold flavors in wine and food generally prefer a bolder, more pure type of dark chocolate. And those who prefer more delicate flavors will favor the sophisticated, creamier taste of Belgian or Swiss chocolate. It is less intense, but equally satisfying in a different sort of way.
I should note that eating chocolate candy (such as traditional "chocolate bars") is not the same as eating real chocolate. Look for chocolate that is at least 70% pure chocolate to enjoy the health benefits of chocolate without ruining your teeth or adding excess weight.
I've learned that resistance to chocolate is futile. When I crave chocolate, I can eat ten other things to try and divert the craving, but absolutely nothing else will satisfy a craving when it hits. So why resist? Keep a stash of really good quality chocolate on hand. You'll find that with the really "good stuff" you only need a small square or one piece to satisfy your craving.
Perhaps a case of sour grapes, but have you gained weight due to your "studies?"
When I first started travel writing (in the late 1990's) I gained 20 pounds. It was too hard to not finish the great food and beverages put before me in the various places I had the opportunity to visit. Then I realized that as long as I tasted (and hopefully enjoyed) the samplings, my hosts would not be offended.
I do the same with chocolate tastings. I often just take a bite and either take the rest home or leave it on the plate, depending on the circumstances. And as I mentioned, pure chocolate is not fattening. It's when you add sugar and large amounts of cream that the calorie count goes up. And if I taste a piece of chocolate and I don't like it, I don't eat it. Life is too short to eat things you don't like!
When can we expect to get a taste of your writing about chocolate?
My book (which will be self-published in three editions) will be ready in time for Valentine's Day, 2013. The first edition will focus on Europe and the UK. If you're a chocolate-lover, you can subscribe to my blog to get updates about Chocolatour and "chocolatouring," the chocolate-themed tours I lead.