Women are said to love it more than sex; most children go wild for it and as a nation, we consume greater quantities of the stuff than almost any other country on the planet. I am, of course, talking about chocolate.
I must admit that I’ve had a sweet tooth since I was young and my particular weakness has always been chocolate. Forget candy, cakes and biscuits: if there was one luxury I could take with me to a desert island it would have to be chocolate.
However, there’s no hiding from the fact that in today’s health-obsessed society, with obesity on the rise and our consumption of junk food as immense as ever, chocolate appears to have been grouped with many of the other indulgences no longer deemed good for us.
In an effort to clear its slandered name (and more importantly to ease my conscience) I decided to seek out the truth. In idyllic Richmond, just off the Green, is the home of Europe’s foremost chocolatier. I found his quaint looking patisserie, located down a narrow cobbled street and sought out the “chocolate” fountain of all knowledge, William Curley.
I went inside with a small flutter of excitement in my belly at seeing all the wonderful creations on display and although I didn’t know what to expect, when William Curley appeared from the rear of the store I was a little surprised.
“I expected you to be….”
“Older,” I replied. I looked across at the array of mouth-watering desserts on display once again and smiled. “And maybe fatter.”
William Curley shook my hand warmly and then offered me a drink, the only drink I guess you would expect - or want - to be offered in the store of a chocolatier.
“Would you like a hot chocolate?”
Over the last few years, William Curley’s reputation has grown rapidly, seeing him win awards by the hat-full and arguably place himself at the head of an elite group of chocolate makers. Earlier this year his culinary creations won an unprecedented 13 Gold, 9 Silver and 7 Bronze awards in the chocolate industry’s equivalent of the Hollywood Oscars. His understanding of one of society’s greatest luxuries quickly exploded a few myths for me and opened up the door to a number of enlightening facts.
“In a world obsessed with the health-giving properties of what we consume, dark chocolate features quite highly on the scale of positives foods when it comes to antioxidants. It’s also worth noting that a high cocoa content doesn’t always mean a good tasting chocolate. Just like wine, chocolate is only as good as the beans. It’s all in the beans.
“Cocoa beans come in three varieties: Forastero, Criollo and Trinitario. The most common bean is Forastero and this is used in the majority of the world’s chocolate production. Criollo - sometimes referred to as the prince of cocoa - together with the hybrid Trinitario (which is a blend of the two) is often used in finer chocolate.
So, a bar containing 85% cocoa coming from poor quality beans is not going to taste anywhere as nice as a bar with less cocoa content that comes from good quality beans.” Just taking a glance around William’s patisserie is enough to leave the lips drooling and the stomach aching for a bite but such quality comes at a very high price.
“If you have an ambition or a goal then I believe you need to make it a worthwhile one. Aim high, as high as you can, because the journey to the top is what the experience is all about and nobody aspires to be average. You want to be the best. But to be the best means putting in the hours and there are some days when I spend more time in the kitchen than I do at home.
For many years people have believed that Swiss chocolate is the best around but William has is own theory on this – and it is something most connoisseurs of chocolate agree with.
“If you’re talking about what is good for you then milk chocolate doesn’t really feature on the scale. Technically - there is no such thing as European chocolate because no beans are actually grown in Europe. The best beans grow 20 degrees either side of the equator. Europeans became involved in the processing and refinement of chocolate as the product became more popular.
“As we’ve already discussed, the Swiss created milk chocolate and it was the Belgians who came up with the concept of boxing chocolates but there aren’t many manufacturers of fine chocolate in the country itself. The same goes for Italy and France although in my opinion, the finest chocolate currently available comes from a small family operation just outside Pisa, called Amedei. The processes they use to create their chocolate offers one of the smoothest eating experiences you are ever likely to encounter.”
As I finished off the interview, I realised that I had learnt a lot more about chocolate than I had expected. The difference between general confectionary and fine chocolate is like comparing a bottle of lemonade to quality champagne! And if eaten in moderation, a small square or two of chocolate seems to do you very good indeed!
If you would like to know more about William Curley then visit his website at www.williamcurley.co.uk.
George R Vaughan