Sunday, March 20, 2022

My Life in ... Chocolate

The fifteenth in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office".

A story of The Dark Side. 

I started out on Burgundy but soon hit the harder stuff." - Just Like Tom Thumb Blues, Bob Dylan. 

They say confession is good for the soul so here goes, sometimes you just have to spill the beans (cocoa beans that is).

Wagon Wheel (Kenilworth 1960's). As a child growing up I didn't eat a lot of chocolate. Pocket money was carefully rationed and I was more likely to buy a Jamboree BagFlying Saucers or Sherbert Fountain. If I bought chocolate it was more biscuity fare like Wagon Wheel or Kit-Kat. 

Cadbury's Dairy Milk (Kenilworth, 1971). When I got offered a place at Hertford College, Oxford my mum splashed out and bought me a family size bar of CDM. "A pint and a half in very glass" was their slogan, now retired as it contravenes European regulations by being not metric!

Terry's All Gold. (Oxford 1975). For me it all started at college when my girlfriend at the time introduced me to Terry's All Gold. It was the first time I had ever come across a box of chocolates that was all plain, and truffle fillings. I could never look at a box of Cadbury's Roses again, milk chocolate and fondant cream fillings, yech - except maybe the purple ones with the caramel centres.

Thornton's Continental Selection (Oxford, 1977). So that was me for the next few years until the Sheffield posse started expanding their territory down south. Yes, Thornton's Chocolate Cabins opened a branch in Oxford. Well that was it, Terry's were history after I discovered Thornton's Continental Selection. At Thornton's I could pick my own mixture! "A quarter of plain, dark chocolate truffles, just start at the left and work along until the bag is full". And then I would have another quarter of all plain truffles. 

I had to have separate bags even if I bought a full pound, because opening that next bag slowed me down (a little). I realised I had it bad when I knew that you got eight truffles to the quarter, and if one was a little light they would give you a crystallised ginger stick to make up the weight.

Sainsbury's (London, 1979). Peak chocolate consumption. I spent a year working in Sainbury's head office off Stamford Street. More out of boredom and as a way of time structuring I would have a tea break every day at 10:30 and 15:30. I would pop down to the newsagents below the office and buy a bar of chocolate to go with my cuppa. The usual mass production chocolate - Kit Kat, Crunchie, Munchies, etc. not Mars Bars (too sweet), not Bounty Bar (coconut gets between my teeth). 

I read Alan Carr's EasyWay to Stop Smoking, not because I smoked (never have) but because I wanted some insight into managing addictive behaviour. An interesting read but what changed my chocolate consumption was changing jobs.

Bendick's Sporting and Military (London 1982). After I moved to London I no longer had access to my regular dealer - there was no Thornton's branch in London. So I went cruising the wild West End and there behind Oxford Street I found Bendick's. Now I knew they did after dinner mints but what I did not know (boy was I naive) was that they also did "Sporting And Military" chocolate. OK, it was not a truffle, it was a solid bar but it was 70% cocoa solids. This was the hard stuff! You could not chomp this you just had to let it rest on your tongue and slowly dissolve. Oh that bittersweet taste.

I should mention Green and Black's chocolate bar here. It too was 70% cocoa solids but it just wasn't the same.

Charbonnel et Walkers (London 1983). Then I moved to work in the City - the heart of London's financial district. Well, you have heard about these high-rolling dealers. It's true. There behind the Stock Exchange was 'Charbonnel et Walkers'. Do you remember Carlsberg's very successful advertising campaign with the slogan "Probably the best lager in the world"? No such modesty for C et W. The window display simply declared "The BEST chocolate in the World". And it probably was. Although I have to say that Thornton's fillings have the edge. 

You could tell what kind of shop it was - there were no prices in the window, always a worrying sign. And the boxes on display. Heart shaped and all pink, Laura Ashley; these looked like the kind of chocolates you bought your mistress! So in I went, into a positively Dickensian interior, deserted but for the sound of the tinkling bell my entrance had set off. From a back room appeared an immaculately dressed youth in a pinstripe suit and white gloves. I made my request for a quarter of plain truffles and back came the response I shall never forget, "Certainly, sir, with or without nuts?".

Hotel Chocolat (London 1993 - 2020). Next to Mary's hairdressers in the Strand was a branch of Hotel Chocolat so every time she had her hair done I got a goodie bag of truffles. The three for a tenner offer was particularly good as were the dessert themed flavours: Raspberry Panna Cotta, Tiramisu, Eton Mess, Carrot Cake, Rhubarb and Custard, etc.

Lily O'Brien's (Dublin c. 2004). Mary worked in Dublin on and off for three years and as she passed through the airport on the way home she would pick up a present for me of Lily O'Brien's chocolates. Pretty tasty they are too. We became aware that the Irish go mad for chocolate. In the run up to Easter the supermarket shelves are bulging with crazy quantities of Easter Eggs.

Lindt Chocolate Museum (Switzerland 2008). Mary and I went a Rhine cruise with Mary's mum. One of the stops included a side trip to the Lindt factory and museum. The shop featured chocolates not seen in their retail outlets - slabs of chocolate poured into trays to cool in a variety of interesting flavours; the dark chocolate with pink peppercorn was a first for me and excellent to boot.

Chocolab Easter Egg (Cisternino 2017). One difference between London and Cisternino is that there you actually know the name of the person who made your Easter egg - Antonietta Pinto founder of Chocolab. We've met her and she is part of the family who run Bar Fod across the piazza. Buona Pasqua.

Green and Black's (Penrith 2020 - present). Alas Penrith does not run to a specialist chocolatier but I live in hope. In the meantime we tend to go with whatever is on special offer in Booths supermarket which is usually either Green and Black's or Lindt.

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