CHOCOPHILE

by The Chocolate Dictionary

Someone with a great love for, or an inordinate attraction to, chocolates. Chocophiles don’t just buy chocolates, they worship them at the altars of Theobroma; they don’t just unwrap chocolates, they undress them; they don’t just eat chocolates, they have passionate encounters with them; and they don’t just digest chocolates, they allow them to metamorphose irrevocably into poetry.

That chocolate is complex and mysterious is well known to chocophiles, and yet the substance is so simple it can be enjoyed plain. That is, if ever there is such thing as plain chocolate – its expressive potential is perhaps too great to fit into such a simple classification. In categories that include the auditory, visual, olfactory, tactile, thermal, and gustatory, the sheer variety of sensory stimuli means that in terms of sophistication chocolate can easily be compared with fine wine.

The complex and mysterious nature of chocolate. (image from: chocolate-angels.com)

Its soft textures can be smooth, silky, velvety or moussey, yet it can also be brittle, and the characteristic snap as it breaks on the fingers or teeth is one of the  pleasures of eating chocolate. It can be cooked and it can be frozen. It can be chewed, it can be drunk and it can be licked. It likes to be combined with other flavours, being noticeably more partial to some than others, yet it releases its own rainbow of impressions, memories and sensations as it melts slowly on the palate.

Chocolate can be made into desserts as well as main courses. It can be spread, piped, shaped, moulded, sculpted, painted with, printed onto, and even worn as clothing. But most of all it enjoyed as confectionery. From  sweet milk chocolate, to filled bonbons such as truffles, ganaches, crèmes and pralines, to premier cru, single-estate, high cocoa content bars, the formulations in which chocolate confectionery are found seem limited only by the creativity of its makers.

Although chocolate is appreciated all over the world much of its profile is still mysterious and unknown. Indeed, it is said that chocolate is Mother Nature’s best kept secret. So numerous are its properties that despite decades of research food chemists are still unable to properly synthesize it. The appeal of chocolate crosses national, cultural and age barriers, yet its roots are deeply South American, where it has long been used in medicine and ritual. Indeed, so versatile are the healing properties of chocolate that it is frequently used in therapy and massage.

For many consumers, chocolate is such stuff as dreams are made of. It is such stuff as ecstasy and perfection. It is a Holy Grail. It is a weaver of fantasies. The more one gets to know chocolate the more one realises it has its own character and personality: it talks and it listens; it comforts and it calms; it lifts spirits and it boosts energy levels; it brings joy and it stimulates desire.

That chocolate is so open to interpretation is a quality fully exploited by manufacturers and advertisers, especially in the so-called Milk Tray Approach which promotes its seductive allure. Some say chocolate is feminine: that it is an Aphrodite, a Cleopatra, a Juliet or a Josephine Baker. Others say that it is masculine: that it is a Mark Antony, a Romeo, a Casanova or a Byron. Chocolate is neither and yet it is both. Because of its versatile, ambiguous nature we sometimes think of it as human, and some are even apt to fall in love with it, but as the botanical name for the cocoa tree means “food of the gods”, it must be divine.

Beautiful, sensual, exotic, delicious, talented, original, multi-faceted and very famous in her day, Josephine Baker was a goddess of the burlesque. (image from: i.telegraph.co.uk)

Robert Linxe, founder of La Maison du Chocolat and “magician of the ganache” recognizes this perhaps more than anyone. He has defined over two hundred sensory impressions one can derive from chocolate, yet admits the real total is probably much more. For Linxe, chocolate is more than just confectionery it is a complete sensory entity. Professor Chantal Favre-Bismut, a Nutritionist at the University of Paris, went further, summing up chocolate as “one of the most delicious and noble factors of our whole existence”. Few chocophiles would disagree.