The author, Sarah Jane Evans, is a journalist who is both a Master of Wine and a passionate advocate for fine chocolate (and a member of the UK's respected Academy of Chocolate). She has combined her journalistic flair with her tasting skills to produce a beautifully crafted and thoroughly researched book that will delight and educate lovers of fine chocolate the world over, as well as casting a bright light on the stars of this growing firmament. The book is split into two sections. The first, a mere sixty pages long, covers the story of chocolate, including its history, the journey from bean to bar, and how to taste fine chocolate. Despite the section's brevity it does not feel at all lightweight. Rather, the author has done a superb job in presenting a complex subject in a compact, accurate, informative and eminently readable manner. The second and much longer section of the book dedicates two pages to the leading 80 producers of fine chocolate bars around the world. A summary of each company is provided, with some comments on its range of products, ending with a detailed taste profile of that company's 70% bar (or nearest equivalent). No giants such as Cadbury's or Hershey are to be found in the top 80, which will not surprise anyone (NB: this is not to knock those companies; they are just in a different market), but larger companies such as Lindt, Godiva and Green & Blacks do make the cut, along with smaller but more well known names of the fine chocolate world such as Amedei, Valrhona, Domori , Pralus, and Michel Cluizel. Space is also found for rising stars (e.g. Amano, Theo, Ginger Elizabeth), and this includes chocolatiers who also produce a limited number of bars (such as Guido Gobino, Bernachon, Jean-Paul Hevin, William Curley, Paul A. Young, Artisan du Chocolate). Although producers from the USA and Europe predominate, their presence is by no means exclusive, with exciting new companies from Latin America, the West Indies, Oceania and Africa all making their presence felt. No book of this nature can claim to be either absolutely exhaustive or absolutely definitive, but in Sarah Jane Evans's "Chocolate Unwrapped" we have a book that comes pretty close to being both at the time of publication. The fine chocolate market is taking off around the world and yet it can be difficult for the average interested consumer (and even the relatively dedicated enthusiast) to find out information about small, low volume, high quality chocolate producers. Likewise, many of the small producers cannot afford the kind of advertising and marketing that will bring their names and products to the attention of the wider public. This book will help both parties. In short, this is the right book at the right time and I commend and congratulate the author for her tremendous efforts in promoting fine chocolate.
As someone who likes to match up red wine (Cotes du Rhone) with dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids or more) I was intrigued to see that the wine critic of BBC Good Food magazine has published a book about chocolate. I should warn you that the word "chocolate" is used in the narrow sense here - if you like your "dairy milk" bars containing vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter, you've probably dialled the wrong number.
The book opens with a 50-page introduction into the history and production of chocolate, complete with a how-to guide to tasting. This is followed by an alphabetical compendium of some 80 brands of chocolate from around the world, from Akesson's to Zotter. Each gets two pages, and from each brand one bar, 70% or nearest offer, is marked up with flavour notes where the author's main job as a wine critic shines through.
The first part is well written and contains lots of interesting facts, both from food science and history. Chocolate feels smooth, for instance, only if the particle size is 30 micrometres or less. I also learned that more than half the world production of cocoa beans comes from just two countries, namely Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. And that the UK insisted on EU rules permitting up to 5% vegetable fat in "chocolate." Remember to read the list of ingredients before you buy any. The good news, though, is that the appreciation of real chocolate, made from fairly traded ingredients of well-defined origin, seems to be a growing trend even in Cadbury-infested places like the UK.
The list of chocolate brands is also surprisingly readable, thanks in part to the interesting mix of people who at some point of their life decide that their vocation is to produce chocolate. (Having read the first part of the book describing the difficulties involved, you know that they have to be a bit mad to choose this as a career!) While there are of course those who have inherited a family business or come from a background of patisserie or other fine food, there is the odd scientist, lawyer, and management consultant sprinkled in who discovers in mid-life that the quest for the perfect chocolate bar might be more satisfying than whatever they were doing in their previous career.
On top of that, the book is mouthwateringly illustrated with colour photos of lots of chocolate bars, details of the production process, and the plants. And it is beautifully produced, inside and out. Considering this, the book is very good value. Quite a few of the chocolates introduced here will probably cost more per weight.
Whilst Chocolate has a very clear priority in my life I hadn't until now really understood what it's all about. Sarah's book has changed my Christmas list considerably and I know my family and friends will be spending a lot of time trying to source chocolate from some the more obscure producers.
I strongly recommend that you buy this book for anyone you know who loves chocolate, it's the perfect present and a real talking point.