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Edible Treasures


Versatile chocolate lends its delectable flavor to liquors and beverages, desserts — hot and cold — and is an ingredient in many cuisines.

As Easter arrives and chocolate-filled eggs fill supermarket shelves, cocoa cravings around the world are set to hit an all-time high.

Just how did the love affair with this creamy ingredient begin? Native to the Amazon basin, Columbus and Cortez brought cacao beans back to Spain from the New World.
An unrecognized “genius’ in King Carlos V’s kitchen added sugar, vanilla, and other spices to create an elegant hot drink, which until the 19th Century, only Europe’s nobility could enjoy and afford. Chocolate had become a guarded treasure.

Greater production and new methods of preparation brought cacao to a wider audience, who were anxious to taste this aristocratic treat. By 1830, chocolate began to appear in pastries and cakes. And by 1849, the first eating chocolate was available.

Today, there are three varieties of cacao tree. The criollo is the most delicate and the most expensive, producing less than 10% of cacao.

The forastero is easier to cultivate and found around the world in the prime growing area (20 degrees either side of the Equator). Nearly 90 percent of cacao is from this source. The third, Trinitario, is a hybrid of the two.

Some of the nuances of flavor in chocolate come from the variety of soils the beans grow in and the skill of the roasters. However, as with great wines or extraordinary coffees, the blenders — chocolate’s master tastemakers — create the real difference.

One of the best eating chocolate sources in Los Angeles is Chocolatt from Belgium. This cheery little store on Wilshire Blvd is overseen by owner Tarcis Verfaillie who will soon celebrate six years in the neighbourhood.

French, Swiss and German, each chocolate here has a distinctive taste. Not surprisingly, Tarcis thinks Belgian chocolate is the best, describing the skill of Belgian chocolate blenders as “phenomenal†. Hundreds of years of experience produces a chocolate that is rich and smooth; no biting edge, no sharp flavor with a satisfying aftertaste.
Chocolatt boasts 75 selections of bite-size chocolate delights (14 without sugar) and a variety of bars, including Galler from one of Belgium’s most respected chocolatiers.

A confessed chocolate lover, Tarcis admits to sampling his offerings every day.

“If someone comes in and tastes one chocolate that’s not fresh, not excellent…they won’t be back,†he says.
The finest dark chocolate here has only three ingredients: cacao, cacao butter, and sugar.

Delightful as chocolate is, this bright spot on Wilshire’s bland commercial face is not all about candy. There’s Dandy Don’s Ice Cream (home-made in Van Nuys), French croissants, Peerless Coffee, and “Velvet Hot Chocolatt†, a specially formulated recipe.
See www.chocolatt.com.

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