As most folks who enjoy wine know, chocolate and wine can be an outstanding pairing. What I didn’t realize is that learning about one can help you enjoy the other.
Very recently I was fortunate enough to be invited to a chocolate-making class. Terry, a good friend with a good heart, had won this class as part of a fundraising auction. There were eight of us budding chocolatiers there at Terry’s invitation to learn how to make chocolate truffles. “There” was Cocova in Washington, DC conveniently located between the popular Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan neighborhoods. Cocova is owned by master chocolatier Robert Cabeca who also has a bakery called Chocolate Crust in upper northwest DC. For about two hours we all became students of the master.
What was most interesting to me about the class was Chef Cabeca’s lecture on tasting chocolate. He literally spoke to us in the same terms that I would expect to hear at a wine tasting – it’s scent (bouquet), the flavors across the palate, etc. He also indicated that not only the kind of cocoa bean (varietal) but where the beans are grown (terroir) can affect the flavors present. Then he took it a step further and told us that if we didn’t really experience much flavor, there was still hope.
According to Chef Robert, the three major culprits in damaging a person’s palate (i.e. taste buds) are smoking, spicy foods, and too much alcohol. Although I tried very hard as a tweenager to pick up the smoking habit, it didn’t stick. And while I clearly do drink alcohol, it isn’t excessive and is almost exclusively wine. Spicy food? Well, I like spice, and sometimes go for the “hot” dishes at Mexican or Thai restaurants. Suddenly, I was concerned that I’ve been destroying my palate because I like a little zip and zing in my food. Oh, no! But then we got the good news.
Evidently, your taste buds regenerate every two weeks. Yup, if you stop doing things that will harm your palate for two weeks, you will have a brand new tongue in the end. A couple of weeks, that’s all it takes. I can do that! It’s going to be interesting to see if my two weeks of spicy abstinence will increase my perception of subtle flavors in wine.
By the way, we all had a great time at Cocova. We learned a lot about chocolate and about working with it. Chef Cabeca is a good, patient teacher as well as an excellent chocolatier. Every team – we worked in pairs – finished the class successfully with a batch of tasty chocolate truffles. Ours were mocha. Yum!