By Maya Dukmasova
There are as many types of chocolate out there as there are cuts of meat or varieties of cheese. Yet after a recent taste-test experience, I found myself convinced that not everything made of cocoa butter should be dignified with such exquisite nomenclature.
After dutifully considering the dozens of seductive varieties of chocolate underneath the glass of the confectioner’s counter in Parkleigh, I decided to compare what Rochester’s Hedonist Artisan Chocolates had to offer against the famous Moonstruck Chocolate Co. out of Portland, OR.
Tasting chocolate should be a silent process. Pick a quite spot and make yourself a cup of unflavored coffee. Or, if you prefer, arm yourself with a glass of room-temperature water. Unwrap your treats and pause to take stock of the color and shape. Each artisan chocolate has its own personality that deserves appreciation. When you begin to eat don’t chew. For as long as possible, delay your impulse to eat and revel in the pleasures of taste.
I first chose to sample three varieties of Hedonist chocolates, beginning with the small, sparkling Cranberry Pecan Cluster. As the piece began to melt, the first flavors of the smooth, dark chocolate intensified steadily. Then, flipping the cluster in my mouth, my taste buds were hit by the caramelized pecans, both salty and sweet, and, as I began to chew carefully, the tartness of the dried cranberries. Continuing to chew, I was astonished by the fact that the flavors of chocolate, pecan, and cranberry remained distinct. But this was a journey of textures as well as tastes. As the chocolate melted away its flavor lingered on with the crunchiness of the nuts and the chewiness of the dried berry. As the last of the treat disappeared I was left with some final smoky notes of roasted pecan.
Hedonists’s Jennifer Posey did not fail to impress me with her Milk Chocolate Truffle either. Just as in the previous piece, this truffle was constructed of layers of flavors, textures, and, I kid you not, temperatures. The truffle is coated in a dense shell that melts into a thin chocolate liquid. Descending closer to the center the chocolate becomes thicker and cooler. The malt and brown sugar flavors of the ganache bloom, eventually filling the mouth with a stringy paste. While this piece does not feature exotic, bold flavors, it is a showcase of perfectly chocolate-y chocolate. Not too sweet, not too milky, and the texture and temperature variations give it unparalleled sophistication. Eat your heart out, Lindt!
My final Hedonist piece was one of the Rosemary Peppercorn Goat Cheese Truffles. I expected the chocolate to taste more like goat cheese but from what I could discern the cheese impacts the grainy texture of the ganache more than it does its flavor. If anything, the sweetness of the chocolate is tempered by the goat cheese. Overwhelmingly, however, this delightful piece tasted like rosemary. A pinch of dried leaves was sprinkled on top of the truffle and once they reached the taste buds they dominated the other flavors. The peppercorn flavor was hardly noticeable.
Compared with all the richness, nuance, and attention to detail I discovered in Hedonist chocolates, the Moonstruck pieces seemed frankly generic. These would be a great gift for someone who you know won’t really sit down and appreciate them. They look like gourmet truffles but ultimately leave you with that feeling of “gross, I just ate six truffles.”
I first tried the seasonal themed Blood Orange Bat, a cute Halloween confection with little red eyes. The dark chocolate outside was just right in terms of sweetness and consistency but was far too thick for the amount of ganache. The blood-orange flavor could only be discerned and appreciated when I let the piece melt in my mouth. Once you start chewing, the dark chocolate takes over completely and you can abandon all hope of tasting the citrus of the interior. There needs to be less bat or more ganache. This isn’t bad for a novelty item and definitely a better treat for the holiday than candy corn, but if you’re looking for something really special on Halloween, this isn’t the piece of chocolate to spend $4 on.
I was initially intrigued by the Sea Salt Vanilla Caramel. The combination of salt and chocolate is really unbeatable. The milk chocolate coating of this square truffle was sprinkled with sea salt flakes and at first the flavor was splendid. But then the teeth sink into the soft cushion of caramel hidden beneath the chocolate and all traces of the latter disappear. The truffle flavor turns from powerfully salty to powerfully sweet with no middle notes and no chocolate flavor. One ends up with a wad of chewy caramel coating the teeth and taste buds, indeed eating it is enough of an effort to make you hesitate to take a second one. There’s something not quite right when a piece of chocolate feels like a whole meal.
The same problem persisted in the Moonstruck Mayan Truffle. Once again, the piece was a beauty to behold, a perfect orb sparkling with cinnamon and sugar granules. The truffle was soft, with a uniform smooth texture and a powerful taste of milk and sugar. It was only after working through the giant mass of chocolate, (and starting to have that horrible guilty feeling for eating a giant mass of chocolate) that i felt a few bits of almonds on my teeth. Though the ganache was supposed to be almond flavored, as far as I could tell the nut dust was thrown in as an afterthought, completely subsumed by the rest of the truffle
To be sure, the Hedonist pieces were a far more delicate and nuanced experienced. Whether it’s their size, texture or flavor, each chocolate had an unforgettable personality, revealing itself progressively to the attentive taster. The Moonstruck chocolates on the other hand were little more than, well, chocolates (or caramel). And even as far as that went they left much to be desired after the tasting was over, like a big glass of water and a nice long workout.
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