We’ve been really delighted by the support shown for both our weekly Wednesday “Welcome to the Revolution” Craft Chocolate Tasting and also our Thursday “Conversations on Craft Chocolate”.
Part of the fun of these tastings is trying eight (or more) very different craft chocolates that vary between dark, milk, stone ground to even 100% — and having everyone share their reactions in real time on the main screen (and thereby avoid the awkward silences or (worse) loud shouting of in person big tastings). During these online events it’s always intriguing to hear your questions, feedback and comments — and we are constantly learning.
One of the most common questions we keep hearing is “can you do a milk focused tasting”? And the answer is (obviously) YES. And this week we are delighted to be launching a Milk Craft Chocolate Tasting. So thank you for all those who encouraged us here.
We’ve provisionally planned to do one milk tasting each month – see here for more details. We will use the Tasting to explore the history of chocolate and discuss the social and environmental challenges posed by commoditised, mass-produced chocolate. But even if you’ve already attended one of our regular, mixed chocolate tastings (and heard some of this already), if you want to taste a range of nine very different milk chocolates, please do join in. There is only one tasting kit, but it will easily stretch to four people with lots left over for the next few days (and we’ve including a CocoaRunners Storage Pouch for this purpose).
We are also using this week’s blog post to explore the importance of milk chocolate in history and the extraordinary variety milk chocolate can offer (including some “no sugar” and non-dairy options), while also owning up to a few of its challenges (hint: it doesn’t age well and it’s VERY moreish).
Milk Chocolate in History
For almost all of chocolate’s five thousand year history, we consumed chocolate as a drink. And for much of it’s history, chocolate has had strong religious and aristocratic leanings. But thanks to three discoveries within the last fifty years of the nineteenth century, chocolate went mainstream and became eaten, rather than drunk.
- The first “discovery” was by Joseph Fry in the 1840s who counter-intuitively worked out that by adding cocoa butter back into the chocolate pastes that were used to make drinking chocolate he could create a stable, chocolate bar that people could eat. And in 1847 Joseph Fry launched from his Bristol factory what is accepted as the world’s first commercial chocolate bar.
- These first bars were very grainy and gritty (similar to Taza’s stone ground bars of today). In 1879, after apochryphally leaving on a machine over the weekend, Rodolphe Lindt “discovered” what is now called “conching” and how to make the smooth chocolate bars that predominate today. (For more details on how conching works, and how it releases more of the hundreds of flavour volatiles in chocolate whilst creating a smooth mouth feel, please see here.)
- In parallel, and a few villages away, Daniel Peter was working on how to add milk to chocolate. Initially he had huge problems as chocolate does not react well to water (as anyone who cooks with chocolate can testify). However when he partnered with Henri Nestle, a neighbour who had invented a milk-condensation process for his baby foods, the two were able to start making commercial milk chocolate in 1875.
Putting these discoveries together – bars, smoothness and milk – kicked off the “chocolate revolution”.
To put this revolution in context: It is estimated that in 1870 around 50 million people drank chocolate, compared to 500 million drinking tea and 200 million drinking coffee. But with the transition from drinking to eating chocolate, world consumption of cocoa beans increased tenfold between 1850 and 1900 (from less than five thousand tonnes to over fifty thousand tonnes). And it has kept growing – from 50,000 tonnes in 1900 to 632,000 tonnes in 1940 to 4.5 million tonnes in 2016.
Much of this is down to the “moreishness” of smooth, milk chocolate. Indeed it can be argued that Daniel Peter’s creation of milk chocolate created one of the world first “bliss point” foods (we will explain this more in a moment, see below).
Varieties and Virtuosities in Milk Chocolate
Just as different beans, fermentations, drying, roasting, grinding, conching and recipes create huge differences between dark chocolates, the same is true of milk chocolate. Indeed arguably milk chocolate is capable of even greater varieties – and so in our Milk Craft Chocolate Tasting we plan to explore the impact of some of the key factors
- Different percentages — using two bars crafted by Mikkel Friis Holm, from the same bean and farm
- Different beans – comparing two milks made by the same maker, with similar recipes and the same percentage, but from different origins
- Different milks – comparing the famed creaminess of Swiss milk to the milk from cows directly descended from those brought by the Vikings to Iceland over 800 years ago and to a non dairy “alternative” milk
And we’ll also explain why many American Milk Chocolates taste so “funky” (we are being polite) to many of us here in Europe (hint: it’s related to butyric acid, one of the key ingredients in parmesan cheese).
Challenges of Milk Chocolate: Ageing and Vintages – “Use by” versus “Best Before”
One of the many facets of Craft Chocolate that we are REALLY looking forward to is the emergence of “Vintage” Craft Chocolates. Just as wines vary year to year, so does cocoa. And similarly just as wines “age”, so can chocolate (in both, the tannins evolve to create radically different profiles). Fresco and Friis Holm are already exploring this. But it deserves more attention. And it brings home one of the differences between dark and milk chocolates (and craft versus mainstream chocolates) that is exemplified in the confusion over “best before” and “use by” dates.
In the UK almost all foods and drinks have to have a “use by” or “best before” date (wine is one of the exceptions, it doesn’t have to have either). These different phrases often confuse consumers, and lead to considerable food wastage. Here is the difference:
- Use by – contains an ingredient or additive that goes off. Generally a really BAD idea to eat after the use by date; but this is complicated by the cautiousness of many makers – and it’s often OK to eat some products (e.g. a yoghurt) a day or so after it’s use by date.
- Best before – arbitrary date applied by the producer. Food and drink can be safely eaten after the date, but the flavour and/or texture may be impaired.
Milk Chocolate of all varieties clearly needs to have “use by” dates. And (ironically) the additives and preservatives in many mass-produced dark chocolates means they too have “use by” dates.
Dark Craft Chocolate should not have a “use by” date; but sadly by law it does need to have a “best before” date. There is no consensus around what this date should be – most makers will suggest a year from the date of production, but others argue for 18 or 24 months. And I’m quite happy to try dark bars that are three to five years old (we’ve been storing some); although to improve the melt and mouthfeel, they are best savoured after they’ve been lightly warmed.
(Insider tip: occasionally we have some bars that are close to their “best before” dates, and we place these in “lucky dip” boxes where you can purchase four of these bars for £9.95; see here for more details.)
But bottom line: IT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA TO EAT ANY MILK CHOCOLATE, OR MASS-PRODUCED MAINSTREAM DARK CHOCOLATE, AFTER ITS USE BY DATE (although a few weeks/months is normally fine).
Challenges of Milk Chocolate: Resisting the Bliss Point
In the late 1960s, after his graduation from Harvard with a degree in experimental psychology, Howard Moskowitz was assigned the task of figuring out how to ensure that American soldiers would eat more of their MREs (Meals Ready to Eat in army speak — i.e. field rations). And his discovery of what he named the “Bliss Point” has impacted everything from spaghetti sauces, fizzy drinks, pizza, salad dressings to snack foods. In a nutshell, the “Bliss Point” is about making food irresistible – or in Pringle’s catchphrase, “once you pop, you can’t stop”. And Moskowitz worked out that by adding salt, sugar, fat and flavourings in different proportions to different foods (and drinks), you could “engineer” people to eat far more. We can’t help but reach for more.
Arguably Daniel Peter worked this out a century before Moskowtiz when, along with Henri Nestle, he worked out how to make milk chocolate. Milk chocolate is very moreish. Whereas most of us will savour dark craft chocolate, and are happy with a few squares from a couple of bars, with milk chocolate it is harder to resist (and this is true of both “classic” milks and “dark” milks with over 50% cocoa in them). Indeed in the case of mass-produced milk chocolate even the packaging reflects this – it assumes that the whole bar will be eaten in one go (actually the same is true of many mass-produced dark chocolates, as they too have other fats, oils and flavourings added to optimise for the “bliss point”).
Forewarned is forearmed. Craft Milk Chocolate is awesome. It has a range of flavours and textures that can rival Dark Craft Chocolate. And the addition of milk to chocolate helped move chocolate from being primarily a drink for the aristocracy and wealthy to being a delight that everyone can eat and savour.
We really look forward to many of you joining our planned Milk Craft Chocolate Tastings – and for those who’ve attended the regular tasting, we’d love to hear your reactions too. Please see below for more details, and a few milk bars to (try and) savour.
Spencer, Simon, Lizzie and Harmony