Gourmet Chocolate Showdown: Valrhona vs. Amedei
My boyfriend recently got very interested in Gourmet Chocolate. He's always liked sweets so I ignored this. I didn't really like chocolate, and I'm also lactose intolerant so I was even less interested. But it became clearly this hobby was here to stay and I began to learn more about it. Like the fact that Dark Chocolate has no milk in it. And that gourmet dark chocolate doesn't taste anything like the commercial dark chocolate I was very opposed to growing up.
I started to taste some of his relatively gourmet chocolates but I wasn't very impressed (this included stuff like Green and Black's Maya Gold). But then I was introduced to very gourmet, vintage bars from Italy and France! In Italy they call them 'Cru' (like wine) -- where the beans all come from the same plantation -- and boy, I can't get enough.
Enough long intro!
Recently we compared Valrhona Trinidad and Amedei Trinidad. And Valrhona Venezuela and Amedei's Chuao bar (with beans from Venezuela) which has famously been voted the best bar in the world.
And now, some observations: The first observation is that my taste buds are a lot more sensitive than my boyfriend's. He said he read that women's taste buds are more sensitive than men's. But I think it has something to do with the fact that he eats a lot of spicy and msg-infused super tasty food and I eat a lot of plain things. Anyone know the science of this?
I found the Valrhona bars to have a much more enjoyable consistency than the Amedei bars. I'm not the kind to let the chocolate melt in my mouth. I like to chomp. And the Valrhona bars are fun to chomp. The Amedei is almost too smooth (perhaps better for melting?).
Both Trinidad bars are good. The Trinidad taste, to me, seems to be outstanding in it's lack of outstandingness. It's just chocolate. Not too bitter, not fruitty, not too nutty. Just good, solid, straight chocolate. Both my boyfriend and I found the Valrhona a little more pleasant. The Amedei just had less to offer.
But the real test was of the Venezuelan chocolates. I immediately understood why the Amedei Chuao was voted the best in the world. I've never tasted anything like it! I checked the ingredients like 7 times. It says "cocoa mass, cane sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla" - really? that's it? Because the taste is crazy. I think it's really fruitty. It tastes like chocolate covered berries. And the taste is so complex. It lives on and on and your mouth (it even got stuck in my throat a little and I drank some tea and it mixed with the remnants in my throat and mmmm....). I mean, it's just crazy. Every bite I said I couldn't believe it. My boyfriend, on the other hand, with his burned out taste buds, didn't get what I was talking about.
The Valrhona Venezuela on the other hand starts off good. I bit in and got a burst of smoked berry flavor. Wow I thought. Then I kept chewing and huh...what is that... oh I don't like that. A bitter almost burned aftertaste. I think the Venezuela gives too much away -- too much flavor in the initial bite, and then leaves you unsatisfied with the aftertaste. Unlike the Amedei, which gives you less of a flavor blast but a more sustained experience that doesn't let you down. If only it had the consistency of the Valrhona!
I don't have the boxes around anymore, but I think both Valrhona bars are only about 64% cacao and the Amedei ones were 70%.
Anyway, I wanted to know what other people's preferences were. Do you think the Amedei Chuao "best bar in the world" is worth the high price tag? Does anyone else agree that these 'cru' bars taste a lot better than the hybrids? Do you prefer Valrhona or Amedei? Do you prefer Trinidad beans or Venezuela? (We have a Valrhona Madagascar bar we haven't tried yet...)
And what is your favorite kind of gourmet chocolate? My boyfriend has tried just about everything Whole Foods has to offer (Dagoba, Green and Blacks, Scharfenberger) and I've tried a couple of them. But I'm very interested in these other Italian and French companies. I'm going to try some Domori next. Which of their bars do you suggest? Or which of other company's bars?
I've tried Valrhona Recolte 2007 from the Palmira Plantation in Venezuela. I'm not sure if it's the same one you tried. The box is a rusty orange color. I found this bar's texture different from most of the other Valrhona choclates I've tried. It was more dense and reminded me of Amedei's usual texture. It started off with mocha flavors and reminded me of red tea (Asian black tea, not rooibos). Actually, this doesn't sound anything like your description, so maybe we have different bars. BUT, we may have different notes because I tend not be as interested in fruit flavors in my chocolate because I don’t really like fruit.
Amedei Chuao-- I think Chuao beans are well balanced. I'm always amazed when I eat this bar how balanced the flavor profile of one bean can be. I find that it starts off with bitter coffee flavors that are perfectly balanced by acidity. Toward the end I get dark cherry flavors and enoki mushrooms.
Despite being a great bar, I think the Amedei Chuao is overrated. In fact, I generally don't enjoy the single-origin bars as much as good blends. The reason why blending is done is to balance flavors of different beans. I usually find single-origin bars interesting to taste, but not much fun to eat.
Chuao may be the best beans in the world, but my absolute favorite bar ever is the Amedei 9 bar. The scent is complex -- dark, rich, with a subtle "cat pee" aroma of sauvignon blanc but not as bright or acidic. It's a blend of beans from 9 different plantations. I'm not familiar with any of the plantations, but there is definitely the enoki mushroom flavor of Chuao beans that I enjoy in there somewhere along with blueberries, and chili pepper. My tasting notes for this bar are rather vague and metaphorical. I generally enjoy the experience of eating the Amedei 9 bar too much to intellectualize and analyze it.
I agree that the texture of Valrhona is generally more fun to chomp. I'm not sure if we find it fun to chomp for the same reason. I find that it "shatters" a bit more. As far as texture goes, nothing I've ever tried beats Michel Cluizel's chocolate. The texture melts smoothly in your mouth but also shatters very nicely when you chomp it. My favorite Michel Cluizel bars are the "Maralumi," "Vila Gracinda," and "Los Anciones."
I think Scharffenberger is generally overrated, but I did enjoy their 10th anniversary (beans from Venezuela, Trinidad, and Madagascar). I also like the bar that's wrapped in blue which has darker berry flavors. The one wrapped in yellow is too citrusy for me and unbalanced.
I'm not sure why I keep trying, but every organic/ fair trade chocolate bar I've ever tasted is absolutely revolting. They're typically unpalatably bitter, harsh, and moldy tasting. I don't think it has to be this way, but I've attributed the bad taste to the fact that making good-tasting chocolate isn't a priority when you can get people to buy your product as a political statement rather than a gastronomic statement.
As far as price tag goes, I think Amedei bars are well-worth their price. Forgive me for applying hedonistic calculus to the situation, but for about $14 for the 9 or the Chuao, I'm getting something that I enjoy very much. For about half the price at about $7 a bar, I can enjoy Michel Cluizel's chocolates which are wonderful in texture, and generally have great flavors as well but I'm usually buying Michel Cluizel's bars to taste, compare, and expand my palate rather than to enjoy. The special blends and single origin Valrhona bars are also in the category . . . In the $2-3 range are usually chocolate bars that don't taste very good. The good $2-3 chocolate bars are some of the Valrhona, and Lindt -- decent "table" chocolate that is good for everyday consumption but not exciting. The bad $2-3 chocolate bars are not worth the price to me, and if I were desperate, I might rather go for Hershey's at $0.75 which is bad-tasting chocolate but for a lot cheaper.
I haven't tried Domori, but my chocolate soulmate tried one of their bars (don't remember which one, sorry) and said all the acidity came at the end and she didn't like it.
As for El Rey, I haven't been able to find a source near where I live so I haven't tried it. I will be in Boston this fall though and visiting a chocolate shop that is owned my El Rey so I will try it then. I've generally heard good things about it, but that it's not on par with Amedei, Cluizel, and Valrhona. I hear their white chocolate is very interesting.
Have ya'll ever tried El Rey Chocolates?? It is the absolute best chocolate in the entire world. 100% single origin bean chocolate from Venezuela. It doesn't need any nuts or special ingredients added to it. They range from 40.5% to 73.5%. Honestly, I can't eat anything else now.
Valrhona, Amadei, Domori-- dang, lady, but that's a lot of money spent on import tariffs!
Just kidding (we do that too). I like Valrhona as an everyday chocolate, and you're right, it doesn't melt all that well. Domori's better for that (and better, perhaps, in general with more defined notes). Unfortunately, It's been too long since I've had Amadei.
While I generally stick with Valrhona because it's much more readily available than either of those, I actually don't like its single-origin line. At all.
Try Pralus (French); their single-origin chocolates are amazing. Michel Cluizel is also good.
Dolfin and Vosges have really tasty chocolates (for quotidian consumption!) as well, but they tend to have other flavorings. Your SO may enjoy Vosges, in particular, due to its use of "dark milk chocolate" (a blended 41%) and interesting additions. I'm not normally a fan of milk chocolate, but we favor the matcha, goji berry (+ pink salt), and Barcelona (smoked almonds + grey salt) bars, and are really looking forward to trying the new bacon bar. I also want to try the Calindia bar (cardamom, walnuts, and plum in dark), and would recommend the Red Fire and Oaxaca (both spicy). I can't say Dolfin makes anything that's unappealling, but I have a special place in my heart for Dolfin and Cafe-Tasse.
Chocolate with goji berries, chocolate with bacon(?) and spicy chocolate all sound perfect for the boyfriend =) Thanks for all the suggestions! More to try!
(As for the money, it was boyfriend's birthday and all he wanted was the Amedei so I bought him that and a little for myself. And knowing he was a a big chocolate fan, my sister sprung for the Valrhona as a birthday gift! As for all the other not cheap but not as expensive bars, he has himself on a regime of buying one every two weeks. But this has been going on for like a year, so he's sampled quite a lot at this point!)
I can vouch for the Vosges bars -- the Barcelona is my favorite, even though I usually prefer dark chocolate. I'm waiting for my local pusher ... uh, supplier ... to get the bacon bars in, which they said would be their next shipment.
Domori I find to be really different from the others -- softer and a bit more vanilla-y. It takes some getting used to, but once you've reconciled yourself to the style, it has its place.
Cost Plus World Market has a good selection of premium bars at more wallet friendly prices. The Vintage Plantations line I mentioned is quite reasonable, as is the very good fair trade chocolate from Equal Exchange. And of course Trader Joe's carries some single origin bars and Valrhona's regular line.
I've been doing some comparisons, although I haven't gotten around to Chuao yet.
I did several different Madagascar chocolates a while back and they weren't to my personal taste: too acidic (which is funny, because generally I like acidic foods). I keep going back to my favorite Ecuadorian chocolates from Vintage Plantations. I also find I like chocolates from the Americas better than chocolate from Africa.