Saturday, June 09, 2007

Infidelity, foodwise

They say you never forget your first love. That was you, Cadbury's Dairy Milk; sweet and creamy and rich, with a solid bite and a satisfying mouthfeel, you scored a direct hit on all pleasure points in mouth and brain. I was devoted to you through childhood.

When I came to the US, I was pleased to find you here. But one taste told me it wasn't really you. Something just seemed ... wrong. Off, as My People would say. It was like spotting Billy Idol across a crowded room and realizing he's just
an unconvincing Billy Idol lookalike.

Later, I discovered there are differences in US and UK chocolate production guidelines; the British government mandates twice the percentage of cocoa solids required by the FDA (which, by the way, is currently considering
allowing manufacturers to replace cocoa butter in chocolate with vegetable fat).

The thrill was gone, but at least I knew why.

For a long time, I didn't think about chocolate as much. Found other things to keep my mouth occupied. Started exploring salty treats. Learned to love olives, boquerones, edamame (none of which, of course, sat in grocery stores in Billingham in the 1980s).

And then, in Montreal, I fell in love all over again, in a little gourmet store on Rue St-Denis. I found Belgian company
Dolfin's milk chocolate with Indian masala.

The first taste: excellent chocolate. Then spices: cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, cloves. Then, at the end, as the last drops of cocoa butter dissolved on the tongue, a gentle whisper of fiery warmth.

Back home, I raided the Dolfin shelf at Cardullo's in Harvard Square. Dark chocolate with Earl Grey tea. With pink peppercorns. With green anis. And I was happy.

And then my head was turned yet again, this time by
Vosges.

(I'm sorry, Dolfin. You were intriguing and creative, and you introduced me to new ideas. But Vosges was just so much more adventurous, more daring. And I was ready to take the next step.)

Where Dolfin was all about "l'art du mélange," the careful, artisanal blending of chocolate with subtle, gently compatible ingredients, Vosges flavor combinations seem to throw caution to the wind: Hey, what happens if we make a bar with ginger and wasabi? How about mixing Kalamata olives into white chocolate?

Oh.

Oh oh oh oh oh.

There's a new flavor.

I'm afraid to type it out in case it's not real.

Just ... just look at this.

So do you understand, Cadbury's, Dolfin, why I had to move on?

But now I have to admit that I've been smitten again. I swear it wasn't my fault. I was in WholeFoods, buying sorbet (healthy! Fruitful! Organic!), when I saw, out of the corner of my eye, the most wonderful thing ever.

Vosges does ice cream.

I didn't buy any that day, but the thought of it kept coming back. So yesterday I picked up a couple of pints on my lunch hour, grabbed a fistful of plastic spoons, and took them back to the office. That way, I figured, I could share them with my colleagues. It could hardly be considered cheating.

One taste was all it took. The Red Fire (ancho and chipotle chilies with cinnamon in chocolate ice cream) reminded me of my first experience with Dolfin's Hot Masala: rich and chocolately with a warm, spicy finish--but with the additional kick of being chilled at the same time.

The Naga, though, made my head swim. Coconut and curry in a creamy custard, like a decadent, dessert version of yellow Thai curry sauce. Once I'd finished swooning, my first thought was Okay, what can I do with this? It begs to be paired with something; maybe mango, or caramelized banana. Or even roast chicken. Seriously.

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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