How to Build the Ultimate Chocolate Tasting Plate
Cheese gets to have all the fun. It's the ultimate party trick: Pull out a cheese plate with fun accompaniments, and everyone loses their minds over the possibilities. I've long wondered why chocolate should be any different, and in my new book, Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: America's Craft Chocolate Revolution, I've created what I call a composed chocolate plate, which will blow your guests' minds (and taste buds) at your next dinner party.
Sure, you could put together a "trio of chocolate desserts," like some fancy restaurants do. But recently, chocolate bars themselves have gotten a lot more interesting, now that we're in the heyday of bean-to-bar chocolate.
Showcasing several bars together with fun accouterments highlights the different flavor notes in each bar. That's because cocoa beans, like wine grapes, have terroir: They taste different depending on where they're grown, with soil, weather and other elements playing a factor. So some beans—and the resulting single-origin chocolate—will taste bright and fruity, while others will be deep and smoky, for example.
① Choose four or five chocolates. Otherwise, you'll overwhelm your guests and your palate.
② Pick different styles of chocolates to keep it interesting. A good rule of thumb is one dark, one milk, one white, one 100 percent and one bonbon. On the composed plate in my book, I choose three single-origin bars, featuring cocoa beans from Madagascar (fruity), Ecuador (floral) and Venezuela (nutty), as well as a 100 percent bar and a burnt caramel-amaro truffle from chocolatier Michael Recchiuti.
③ A little bit goes a long way. Break up the bars before you serve them and don't overwhelm the plate with too much of each chocolate.
④ Choose traditional accompaniments like fresh and dried fruit, as well as creative ones like cheese and bread.
⑤ Include palate cleansers like green apple and lemon water. If you want to beautify the plate even further, scatter cocoa nibs across it as well.
The best part: You can go about it any way you want. If you want to get nerdy, taste each chocolate on its own. After smelling a piece, take a small bite, chew it a couple of times, then let it melt on your tongue.
When tasting chocolate with the other board members, I use a modified version of what Murray's Cheese in New York calls the "milk-shake method." As you let the chocolate melt in your mouth, add the cheese, bread or other food, and chew slowly. Miss Manners might not approve, but it sure will taste good.
Take a sip of lemon water or a bite of green apple between chocolates to clear your palate. But don't worry about being too serious about it. After all, this is chocolate, and it's supposed to be fun.
Parts of this story are excerpted from Bean-to-Bar Chocolate©, by Megan Giller, used with permission from Storey Publishing.
Please check your inbox to verify your email address.