Beyond Hershey’s: students melt into chocolate-tasting experience

For those who still craved chocolate after Valentine’s Day, Dodd dining hall was the place to be on Friday night. The campus culinary club, Gusto!, hosted a chocolate tasting event that drew around 70 students, all of whom came to indulge themselves in some world-class chocolates and learn about chocolates from an expert.

Although it only officially became a club this past fall, Gusto! was originally founded by Prim Songkaeo ’11 back in her sophomore year. Both a serious eater and wonderful cook, Songkaeo wanted to create a group for food-lovers at the College that would bring together people who are passionate about eating, studying and cooking good food. Past events hosted by Gusto! include workshops on food photography and a cheese tasting.

For this particular event, which was part of the sustainable food and agriculture program’s ongoing taste education series, the club invited chocolate expert Petra Tanos, who brought along with her some 30 bars of gourmet chocolates as her teaching tools for the night. People started lining up outside of Dodd a full 15 minutes before the event was scheduled to begin – chocolate clearly still has some charm. With samples of delicious chocolate right under their noses, some people found it a bit difficult to concentrate on Tanos’ enthusiastic talk about the history and production process of chocolate. For those who were capable of tearing their gaze from the chocolate before them, her talk was both interesting and informative. She identified different types of cocoa beans and the regions in which they were produced and then explained the numerous steps through which the bitter cocoa beans are transformed into chocolate bars.

One attendee asked about the packaged Hershey bar lying on each table. Tanos explained it was meant to contrast the gourmet chocolates she brought and then revealed the somewhat disturbing fact that there is less than 10 percent cocoa in Hershey bars. In fact, the main ingredient is pure sugar. As Tanos spoke, she passed around the cocoa beans and cocoa butter for people to touch, smell and taste.

After getting their fill of chocolate theory, it was finally time for everyone to experience the main event of the evening: the tasting. Having lined up the samples in a particular order, Tanos invited everyone to start out with the first sample. The taste of this chocolate was a shock to many – at 99 percent cacao, it had an extremely acidic, chalky texture and is not meant to be eaten by itself. Then came chocolate with 80 percent, 70 percent and 60 percent cacao, offering a gradation of sweetness and intensity. Everyone was able to sample a total of nine types of chocolate and to compare their aromas, flavors and textures under Tanos’ careful guidance and instructions. As a devout chocolate lover myself, I was quite surprised to find that the samples included some top artisan chocolate brands like Scharffen Berger, Valrhona and Divine.
The club was thrilled to see a great turnout for the chocolate tasting. “It was really heartening to see such high attendance – it’s clear that food is something on most Williams students’ minds,” said Christine Chung ’11, co-president of Gusto!. “Learning the ins and outs of chocolate tasting from a seasoned professional was a privilege that we’re really lucky to have had.” In discussing future events, club members are envisioning some other types of tastings, such as coffee tasting, according to Songkaeo.

After all the chocolates had been sampled, a few people lingered around to ask questions. As the last people left, I noticed that those Hershey bars were gone, too. Love, it seems, really is blind – at least when it comes to chocolate.

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