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Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light Hardcover – 11 Jun 2005


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Press (11 Jun. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865476357
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865476356
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 2.7 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,294,277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Praise for "Olives: The Life and Lore of a Noble Frui: t" "Edifying...Pit by pit, his savory details add up." --Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, T"he New York Times" "Delicious...A blend of first-rate travel writing and first-rate food writing." --Michael Pakenham, "The Baltimore Sun" "Filled with history, lore, scandal, gossip, politics, recipes, health tips, and even Mafia intrigue, "Olives" is as perceptive as it is passionate." --Patricia Wells, author of "Bistro Cooking "and "Trattoria" "Rosenblum writes with skill and passion. His enthusiasm is contagious when it comes to olive-related legend, lore, and anecdote." --Pauline Mayer, "The Cleveland Plain Dealer" Praise for "A Goose in Toulouse and Other Culinary Adventures in France: " "A rollicking roll through the heart, myth, soul---and belly---of the land of 'Bon Appetit, ' a century after Escoffier. More, please."--Molly O'Neill, "The New York Times Magazine" "Scholarly, spritely, and mouth-watering." --Diane Johnson, author of "Le Divorce"

About the Author

Mort Rosenblum is a special correspondent to the Associated Press, and a former editor of the "International Herald Tribune." He is the author of, most recently, "Olives "(FSG, 1996). He lives in Paris.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Adrenalin Streams on 21 Feb. 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm not one that likes journalists as a rule. But, get a good investigative journalist and get him caught up in a subject as fascinating as chocolate, and you're on to a winner. This is a book that flows as beautifully as melted chocolate in terms of writing style. And yet a lot of research has gone into the book, which gives it depth. In particular, I like the way that Rosenblum has taken the time to visit a very significant proportion of the world's greatest chocolate bar maunufacturers and chocolatiers. This provides the reader with a wonderful insight into what is required to make top quality chocolate as well as what happens when you place commercial aims above that quality. Good chocolate can be made anywhere, and the author explodes the long held myths that only the Belgians and Swiss know anything about chocolate. The section on the UK is a bit thin, but if Rosenblum had been writing this book today he would undoubtedly have marvelled at the magical creations of William Curley (voted Britain's Best Chocolatier in 2007, 2008 and 2009), the Gordon Ramsay of the British chocolate world, or perhaps Paul A. Young, chocolate's Heston Blumenthal. This is an excellent and informative book. My only criticism is that I'm not sure I really needed a whole chapter devoted to Mexican mole, a chicken/turkey dish with a chocolate sauce!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 23 reviews
41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Biography of Great Product. Excellent Read 31 Jan. 2005
By B. Marold - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
`Chocolate - A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light' by culinary journalist, Mort Rosenblum reads as a collection of essays on various aspects of the contemporary world of chocolate and its history, going back to pre-Columbian America.

Anyone who has read Rosenblum's excellent book, `Olives', will recognize the style of this book, which seems to jump from one time, place, and situation to another with little rhyme or reason. The narrative is neither chronological nor in the order in which cacao is grown, harvested, refined, formed into wholesale chocolate, and used as an ingredient in truffles, bonbons, and other confections. There is actually a lot of good sense to this structure (or lack of it) in that you are much less likely to become bored with the tale.

Rosenblum is not a culinary practitioner such as Elizabeth David, Julia Child or contemporary chocolate writer David Lebovitz (to whom Rosenblum owes a considerable debt, as Lebovitz shared information with Rosenblum, in spite of the fact that Lebovitz was writing his own book on chocolate). He is also not an observer of human gastronomic desires such as M.F.K. Fisher. He is not even a hybrid of these two breeds, the culinary columnist, such as James Villas, Jeffrey Steingarten, or John Thorne, who deal in both appetites and techniques. Rosenblum is a rather rare breed of journalist who specializes in writing about food, but seems to have no overriding passion for the subject. He simply seems to be interested in the subject, and, he is a very, very good observer and reporter of what he sees. The writers with the most similar approach seems to be Eric Schlosser (author of `Fast Food Nation') who, like Rosenblum, is as much interested in the economics of a food business as with taste. These writers are more like one another than they are like other writers I have mentioned, although Rosenblum is much less polemical than Schlosser.

Unlike the subjects of `Olives' and `A Goose in Toulouse', where the author had an intimate connection with his subject before he began writing his book, Rosenblum was not intimately familiar with chocolate up to about two years ago. Thus, virtually all his historical information is from secondary sources, albeit, very, very good secondary sources, some dating back to the writings of the early Spanish Conquistadors. His modern information; however, is all based on interviews with primary sources, with some help from Lebovitz and a contemporary chocolate expert, Chloe Doutre-Roussel. And, just as his `Olives' book contained no recipes for sauteeing with olive oil or constructing salads or tapenades with olives, this book contains not one wit of instruction on how to do things with chocolate. For that, see Lebovitz' excellent `The Great Book of Chocolate'.

This is not to say there is no practical information in this book. One of the biggest revelations should be no surprise to anyone who reads about food on a regular basis. That is, our familiar Hershey's chocolate is about as similar to fine chocolate from Europe and American producers such as Sharfen-Berger as a Big Mac is to an entrée of boeuf au pauvre prepared at Thomas Keller's Bouchon or even at Tony Bourdain's Les Halles restaurant. And, this has nothing to do with European skill versus American ignorance. As a product, cacao has a lot in common with other natural products with characteristic terroir, such as olives, coffee, and grapes, leading to differences in the products made from these materials. A very high volume producer such as Hershey simply cannot deal with these variations, so they do everything needed to smooth out these differences as they use the very cheapest cacao they can get their hands on.

The big picture which develops in the course of this book is that the world of chocolate processing is complex, and things have to be done just right at every stage along the route in order to produce world class chocolate. This world is roughly divided into those who grow cacao in the tropics, gather it, dry it, and ferment it; those who buy dried cacao nibs and process it into bar chocolate, the raw material for fine chocolatiers, the most familiar of whom to Americans is probably Jacques Torres.

I confess that most chocolate history was less interesting to me than the shenanigans of modern chocolate businesses and chocolatiers. Just as I was surprised to have the belief about Hershey confirmed in a big way, I was also surprised to find that the widely touted Valrhona brand of French chocolate may be one of the best brands in the world, but it is by no means the largest maker of fine chocolate. That honor goes to Callebaut, also in France. But, Valrhona did present some of the most interesting stories in the book, as its representatives seem to have turned rudeness and chocolate politics into a rather gross art, in high contrast to the quality of their product.

This, of course, is exactly the same interest of Rosenblum's earlier books, although chocolate is not as heavily embroiled in European Union politics as is olive oil, as I suspect the difference in money involved is somewhere on the order of 100 to 1. And, just as Valrhona is about 1/10 the size of Callebaut, the leading American producer of fine chocolate, Sharfen-Berger, produces but 1/100 of Valrhona.

Near the end of the book, Rosenblum seems to remember that he is talking about a food and offers a chapter on nutritional research done on chocolate in the last hundred years or so. In a nutshell, most stories, whether ancient (as in Aztec) or modern (as in diet doctor) are somewhat mistaken. Most of the bad things attributed to chocolate are actually due to the sugar in chocolate candy. Chocolate itself has lots of things which are either good for you or make you feel good, with little or no undesirable side effects.

Every major food deserves a book like this and one like Lebovitz' work.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Enjoyable but flawed... 13 Nov. 2005
By Kate - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I quite enjoy non-fiction works about food, and so I was delighted to find this in the library before an afternoon session of quiet reading in bed.

Indeed, it is quite an enjoyable look at the worldwide growth of fine chocolate, particularly in relation to French chocolatiers. It is an easy, fast and relatively light read. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Hershey and Valhrona. I did find myself consuming masses of expensive chocolate, just to discover that elusive quality which makes some chocolate truly fantastic.

However, all that is good is overshadowed by all that is lacking in Rosenblum's work. Essentially, its greatest flaw is its complete lack of referencing or sourcing, which really discredits any work of supposed non-fiction. It is difficult to think of non-referenced non-fiction as anything more than fiction with a possible element of truth. I really think Rosenblum should consider the importance of acknowledging his sources in his next work.

Furthermore, the structuring is somewhat haphazard, with varying chapters put sequentially but with little linking them to each other. For example, the aforementioned Hershey chapter is followed by a section on cacao in Africa and the (possible) exploitation of plantation workers. While it may seem innocuous, it makes for very disjointed reading. I think the text would be bettered with a more sequential structure, perhaps with the chapters on raw material coming first, followed by chapters about the processed goods.

Still, a reasonably worthwhile and light read. The sort of book best borrowed from the library.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Interesting view of the Chocolate Biz 27 Jun. 2006
By ParisBreakfast - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rosenblum's book is a fun read and you'll learn a ton about the choco biz, but the tasting notes are lost inside all the gossip.

I prefer The Chocolate Connoisseur for more focused detail on just chocolate and learning how to distinguish between various grades. This is more of an industry approach and extensive and interesting as are Rosenblum's other food books.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
This book is candy, not chocolate 10 Mar. 2005
By icqcq - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you're truly obsessed with chocolate, or if you have a high tolerance for careless writing and indulgent editing, you'll make it through this book. As a chocolate obsessive, I made it through, but it is a slog. The paragraphs might as well have bullet-points for all the flow and logic of the writing, but there are plenty of names here to follow-up on if you're interested in fine chocolate, and undoubtedly his favorite chocolatiers will find themselves inundated with fans. The book itself is light on fact and solid information about chocolate and the process, and is heavy on suggestion, personal opinion, and gossip. He seems to have taken this opportunity to indulge himself, both in the eating of chocolate and the writing of his adventure. I can't recommend this book....
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Timely overview of this trendy topic 7 Aug. 2005
By Chris Morgan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Chocolate is certainly trendy where I live (the San Francisco Bay Area) and probably as a result of our once independent Scharffen-Berger's factory tours. Will the appreciation of good chocolate go the way of the late 90's cigar fad? Or will it endure, like America's ever increasing willingness to search for great wine?

Before this book I read "The True History of Chocolate" (Coe & Coe) and found the Rosenblum book much more entertaining but still edifying. Sure, he's a reporter looking to get up to speed with something in just two years, but unlike the diligent Coes, the writing is brisk and enjoyable. I particularly appreciated his willingness to be critical of some producers for taking advantage of people willing to pay top dollar for good chocolate and not caring what the fantastic packaging contains. Yes, after doing this research he finds himself to be a chocolate snob, but he still knows that you should eat what you like, as long as you know the difference between chocolate and candy. He also shows how the European secretiveness and snobbery that has preserved the art form has probably gotten in the way of the rest of us ever knowing that such great stuff is out there.

With this book, I now how much good stuff is out there. And this afternoon I walked into Oakland's Bittersweet Cafe and paid a ridiculous six bucks for a chocolate bar. It was worth it--and way cheaper than a nice cigar.
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