Lately the word “gourmet” has become a popular adjective to be used in describing foods and beverages. One of the most common places to find this is in the extensive world of chocolate. So how do you know if what you are getting is actually gourmet chocolate? There are unfortunately no regulations on the use of the word gourmet, which means that the burden lies on you. If you really want to know if the chocolate you are eating lives up to the true standards of this enigmatic French word then you are going to have to do a little research.
To start you must understand the meaning of the word. There is no actual book definition of gourmet chocolate but most experts agree that it incorporates three different themes, high quality ingredients, skillful and accurate preparation, and artistic presentation. This makes sense when you look back to the root of the word gourmet, the original Old French noun referred to the valet in charge of wines or a wine merchant. It described someone who was an expert in quality wine, they knew the best grapes of each particular region, they knew the proper way for each grape to be prepared and bottled, and finally they knew how to artistically pair the perfect wine with a particular food. Today the underlying idea of the word gourmet is still the same, even though it is now used for a much larger array of products.
One has to be quite careful in seeking out gourmet chocolate these days because in most parts of the world the word gourmet has become a catch phrase or a marketing tool. It is being used to describe everything from potato chips to tequila to cat food. The fact that gourmet chocolate is being labeled as one of the fastest growing industries tells us that there are bound to be quite a few imposters that are simply using the phrase to make a little more money.
The French may be our best measuring tool when it comes to finding truly gourmet chocolate. The reason being that, even though they originated the word, in the French language the phrase “gourmet chocolate” does not exist. To them ALL chocolate is gourmet. In most of the world the word gourmet has to be used to make it clear that a particular chocolate is not common, that it is of a higher quality than the average chocolate. In France however there is care and quality put into every kind of chocolate so this distinction is not needed.
So how does this all boil down to information that one can use when choosing which chocolate to buy? The answer lies in our definition. To start one must look at the ingredients. Make sure that what you are buying does not replace any cocoa butter with vegetable fats. In Europe companies are allowed to replace up to 5% of cocoa butter with a variety of vegetable fats, in the US the standards are even more lenient, but a gourmet chocolatier knows that this would be a desecration of the superb flavor of pure cocoa butter. You should also look at sugar content; cocoa solids or paste and cocoa butter should precede sugar on the list of ingredients. If purchasing truffles or filled chocolates you want to look for ingredients that are fresh and unique. Your chocolates should be free of preservatives and the manufacturer should recommend a guideline to let you know how long they will stay fresh.
Next, one should look at the preparation. Many products claiming to be gourmet chocolate will not disclose to you where, how or by whom their sweets were created. This should be a red flag. A veritable gourmet chocolate manufacturer will gleefully divulge that their delicacies are hand made by a reputable chocolatier.
Lastly, one should desire that the presentation match the product. This may sound pretentious to some but this is the precise completion of anything gourmet and chocolates should not be an exception. Once you have scrutinized the chocolate itself and learned that it is legitimately gourmet then you should examine whether or not the same artistic care and quality has gone into the packaging. To fail to give attention to this detail would be equivalent to serving a pristine wine in a coffee mug.
Undoubtedly, price can create a clear distinction between your garden-variety chocolates and those that are faithfully gourmet. If the chocolate you are researching adheres to the previously mentioned, rigorous standards, then it really should be more expensive than commonplace chocolates. Of course you could skimp in one category or another to save a few dollars but then you could not in good conscience say that what you are getting is authentically gourmet chocolate.
This may seem like a lot of effort to go through just to eat chocolate but we guarantee that once you have tasted the difference it will all be worth it. So take the time, do the research, and enjoy thoroughly the spoils that come from your hard work.