Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Paris Chocolates Revealed

When I walked into the chocolate store, referred to as a Chocolatier here in Paris, I was blown away. I looked into the case and saw twenty-eight varieties of chocolate truffles with, perhaps, thirty individual truffles of each variety. Before entering the chocolate store we had decided to try five truffles each which at the time, sounded about right, but when it came down to choosing only five truffles I realized it was going to be more difficult than I had originally imagined. The difficulty in selecting stemmed from several different factors: (1) the considerable variety of truffles; (2) limited information; and (3) the impatience pouring out of the Parisian server waiting for me to make a decision.

It’s quite clear how such a considerable variety of truffles could make my decision-making process difficult. Simply put, there were more possible decisions for me to make. It sounds quite daunting if you put it in mathematical terms: given that there were 28 different chocolates and I could choose only five, there were 11,793,600 different combinations of truffles one could make, assuming they didn’t more than one of the same kind. Of course, at the time I didn’t do this calculation (I probably would still be at the chocolate store if I had).

With such a large realm of decision possibilities, I knew I would have to find some sort of criteria in order to evaluate the chocolates. Which, led me to the next factor hampering my decision-making process: inadequate evaluative criteria. Most of the chocolates looked remarkably similar. With one exception they were small, glossy, black, and rectangular; the one exception was a short, brown, and cylindrical truffle. So, evaluation based on appearance was going to be difficult, Forest Gump's axiom, "Life is like a box of chocolates..." really rang true at that point. The only distinguishing factor between the small, glossy chocolates was a tag with the names of each truffle and the ingredients. The ingredients listing was probably the biggest consolation for me, because I could at least of some guess as to how the truffles tasted. Unfortunately, the names of the truffles I found were not as informative, for instance I didn't know what to make of the truffle titled "The Conquistador". Was I to assume that if I took this truffle to South America that it would spread Smallpox, was it going to somehow conquer my mouth, or was it just out for riches and fame?

Finally, I was having a particularly hard time thinking straight because the server kept staring at me while I was trying to make a decide which chocolates I wanted to try. I kept trying to think rationally about how to maximize my chocolate experience while being limited to five truffles, but with the stereotypical Parisian server giving me a look of annoyance and impatience I quickly decided to "je me depeche" as the French would say.

So in my haste, I quickly chose four truffles by choosing those that contained ingredients which I typically associate with chocolate, like orange and coffee. However, for the fith truffle I decided to see what "The Conquistador" really was all about. Once I finally had made a decision I was quite relieved, I had decided on one combination out of the possible 11,793,600 in less than ten minutes. Now it was time for the fun part, the evaluation.

In all I had four glossy, dark chocolate truffles and "The Conquistador", a dull brownish color. Aesthetically, I thought the glossy truffles were quite stunning. I was impressed by the sharply defined edges and symmetry on such small truffles. On the other hand, “The Conquistador” didn’t look like anything special, in fact I think it could have passed for something a ten-pound dog produces maybe two or three times a day. But, never one to judge a book entirely by its cover I proceeded to eat all the truffles.

To be honest, I was not impressed by any of the dark, glossy truffles. Biting each one I thought that they the ganache in the center was too smooth and flavorless. The ganache was very rich, but for all that richness lacked an intensity of flavor. Additionally, the hard chocolate shell I had marveled at earlier seemed more like a vehicle for the ganache to reach ones mouth than it seened like an integral component of the truffle, it contributed little to the flavor and was prone to crumbling off of the ganache.

Had I not gotten “The Conquistador” I think I would have been disappointed with the tasting component of my chocolate experience. However, The Conquistador’s in mouth appeal more than made up for what it I thought it lacked in aesthetic quality. It provided everything that I had been missing in the other truffles: a range of textures, a depth of creative flavors that didn’t seem out of place. Savoring it, I noticed the subtle crunch from the nuts, followed by a mellow sweetness, and a finishing taste of cinnamon that had been there all the while and meshed perfectly with the chocolate.

After my experience with “The Conquistador” I was very satisfied, but upon writing this review I had one lingering frustration: I don’t approve of the name “The Conquistador” for the truffle that gave me so much enjoyment. I think it should be renamed to “The Frog Prince”, “Shrek”, or “The Ugly Duckly”; implying it has copious amounts of inner beauty under that ugly skin. Admittedly, the name “Conquistador” might imply a higher value than any of my suggestions, but I still find the name mis-leading.

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