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Academy of Chocolate Awards 2022

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The Academy of Chocolate was set up way back in 2005 by the now sadly departed, and much missed, Sara Jane Stanes OBE. Over the years, The Academy has done an amazing job of surfacing a vast array of craft chocolate makers including the likes of QantuStandoutFjåkDesBarresMetiistoCastronovoKrakÅkesson’s, and Duffy’s.

This year’s results have another crop of spectacular bars; with an increasing number from Asia and Australia. And we are delighted to offer a range of gift boxes that highlight some of these many winners.

I also wanted to highlight the critical contribution made to the Academy’s awards by Silvija Davidson. Silvija plays a key role in organising all the logistics of gathering, packaging, dispatching and co-ordinating all the tastings and judging. Along with her husband David, Chantal Coady; Chair of the Academy, Sarah Jane Evans, plus a host of other board members and volunteers, we owe them all a huge thanks.

What’s amazing is the way that Silvija steps back from the actual tasting and judging. Silvija’s modesty and discipline here is extraordinary. For not only is Silvija an expert chocolate taster but she’s quite literally written THE book on tasting and judging food and drinks. Over a decade ago, for The Guild of Fine Food, Silvija produced the first edition of ‘The Language of Taste’, offering insight and advice on products from rice to relishes, pasta to pickles, ciders to cheeses, seafood to sausages, and (of course) chocolate.

Sadly this book isn’t (yet?) commercially available. But it’s a wonderful read; full of insights and humour; here are a few. (Note the whole book is over 140 pages).

It starts with some tactful advice that applies to all forms of feedback, but is especially useful for flavour, taste and texture where often many of us lack insightful words:

“Try not to use any descriptor more than twice …  in particular “good”, “tasty” and “nice”. In fact, do your very best to avoid “nice” altogether … be on a mission to try and avoid”.

And then it dives into the details of all sorts of different foods and drinks:

  • If you’ve ever wondered how to evaluate marshmallows, here are some nuggets: “Marshmallows: Even artisans no longer wrestle with the root of the marsh mallow plant with its supposed medicinal properties: Modern marshmallows are an unashamedly indulgent capture of sugar in a foamy mass, stabilized by gelatine and sometimes (and more traditionally) egg white, or in vegan versions, agar-agar and aquafaba … Childhood memories invariably play a part in our take on the ideal marshmallow with some … looking for a firm texture, and others looking for fluffy, ethereal, melt-in-the-mouth experiences. Let’s settle for “pillowy” as an ideal, bearing in mind that vegan versions are likely to be a tad firmer than those made with egg-white … additions meant to deliver contrasting crunch can’t afford to be soggy”.
  • Or for custard … “while creme anglaise has a very light pouring consistency with no thickeners added, use of corn starch … is fairly standard in British custard. The best custards, however, manage not to feel farinaceous or powdery … sweetness should be in good balance, … [and] should not be in the least cloying”.
  • And in the same section, on brandy butter … “customers have distinct preferences, but what we are looking for is balance, whether the brandy butter is essentially light and creamy or rich, dense and dark. Butter flavours should not disappear altogether, the brandy should be generous in quantity but not hangover inducing”.
  • And then moving to savoury marmalade … “look for tender, long cooked vegetables and an appealing, uncloying sweet-savoury balance”. Or to piccalilli: “While recipes vary, everyone expects a British piccalilli to contain cauliflower, onion and gherkin, and have sweetness and pungency from mustard, and a vibrant yellow colour from the addition of turmeric. Crucially the veg should not be mushy … it’s unfair to mark down … if the chunks are small as there is a distinct category of “sandwich piccalilli” where the relish is designed to stay put comfortably inside a sandwich”.
  • For chocolate, the advice is similarly wise; covering snap and texture, and explaining the importance of dark vs milk vs white, the dangers of vanilla, etc. And Silvija crucially also encourages thinking along different axes to the simple tastes of “sweet”, “bitter”, “salty” and “sour” by asking if the aromas are “complex or simple”, “distinctive or wan” and “intense or weak”, and to focus on the journey and aftertaste.

And this is where Silvija’s insights and focus on length, balance, complexity and depth of FLAVOUR really come into their own. ‘Tastes’; i.e. sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami, etc.; can all be (re)assembled in a factory with additives. And the same is largely true for texture (see next week’s blog post on emulsifiers for more). But flavours and aromas are far, far more complex. Food scientists are only at the foothills of understanding how our olfactory system (i.e. our sense of flavour and smell) works; Linda Buck only won her Nobel Prize here in 2004. We don’t know how to (re)create the complexities and depths of FLAVOUR through additives and artificial constructions in anything like the way we can for taste and texture.

That’s why great chefs, and great chocolate makers, focus on coaxing aromas and flavour notes out of wonderful ingredients (including cocoa beans). Mass produced confectionery and ultra processed foods can’t ‘engineer’ these flavours. And that’s why Silvija’s leitmotif of looking for complexity, balance, intensity and length of FLAVOUR is so important whether it be brandy butter, custard, piccalilli, marmalades, marshmallows or CHOCOLATE.

Silvija is a beacon in her support of REAL food and craft chocolate, and in her condemnation of “lab-created, ultra-processed ‘equivalents’ … the rapidly accelerating drive (and disgraceful propaganda, so often aimed at kids) to undertake  supposed ‘green swaps’ and even, seemingly, to destroy farming and traditional food(s)”.

And if you’d like some evidence of how this works in practice, why not treat yourself to any of the well deserved AoC Award winning craft chocolate bars in the boxes we’ve assembled below.

As ever. thanks for your support, and a huge thanks to the hard work of Silvija, Chantal, Sarah Jane, Marie Pierre and all at The Academy of Chocolate.

Spencer

1 thought on “Academy of Chocolate Awards 2022

  1. Spencer
    Re Lecithin. I can’t see any reference to one of the key benefits it confers: making the molten chocolate thin enough to fill every last part of the mould. I believe it does this by reducing the yield stress of the molten chocolate. You could get the same effect by increasing cocoa butter content, but if this displaces cocoa liquor you reduce flavour.
    Hope that helps
    Simon

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