For £27.50, you can buy 5kg of Cadbury's Dairy Milk. The same amount of Porcelana, the latest gourmet chocolate to hit the shops, would set you back £445 – that should cure your sweet tooth.
Sold in the UK exclusively at Harvey Nichols at £4.95 for 55g, Porcelana is the most expensive of a range of chocolates by Amadei, a new Tuscan firm. Open the elegant box and you'll find a dozen individually gift-wrapped tablets. But it's not just a matter of flashy packaging. Amadei wants us to pay high prices for the very best chocolate, like we do other luxuries such as fine wine. In fact, in its native Italian market, Amadei drives home this point by selling its range through wine merchants.
Back in 1986, the French firm Valrhona set the precedent by applying wine vocabulary to its own chocolate, referring to different types as "cacao fins" and crowning its Guanaja variety the "grand cru". It even introduced wine-style tasting notes. El Rey, a Venezuelan firm, now imports chocolate made from beans grown on single estates – a kind of equivalent to what wine buffs call terroir. Amadei takes the idea to a new extreme – inside the box you get a card of descriptions: "decisive flavour of almonds which alternates with pressed olives".
Is this new gourmet world of chocolate just a gimmick? The presentation may seem overdone, but these firms have a point. Most commercial chocolate in the UK is padded out with dried milk, vegetable oil and a lot of sugar, and it's made with the hardy low-grade forestero bean. Once these problems are removed, there's a whole world of new tastes out there.
I asked the experts for advice. Jenny Cork, chocolate buyer at Fortnum & Mason (which has one of the finest confectionery counters) says look out for top firms – Valrhona, El Rey, Amadei, Barry Callebaut, Jacques Bernachon, Pierre Bonnat and Pierre Marcolini.
Go for chocolate made with the criollo bean, advises Chantal Coady, author of numerous books on chocolate and owner of chocolatiers Rococo in London's Chelsea. She also co-founded the Chocolate Society, though now has no link to it, and also founded the Campaign for Real Chocolate. Amadei's Alessi Tessieri buys hybrid criolla from a small plantation in Venezuela. Cork adds that country of origin is important, too: Venezuela produces the best chocolate in the world.
If you want to cook with the chocolate, don't be too influenced by cocoa percentages. Claire Clark, one of Britain's best patissiers, says that 65 to 70 per cent is sufficient. "More than that and it can be too bitter. The important thing is balance and smoothness."
With all this in mind, I sat down with Cork, Coady and Clark to taste test some of the market's leading gourmet chocolate. It was a hard job, but someone had to do it. Once you've picked the bar of your choice, use it in the recipe for a classic chocolate pud from Gary Rhodes's new book.
The Chocolate Society Organic Dark
67 per cent cocoa. £2.80 for 100g, The Chocolate Society
Not the priciest of the bunch, but this is our all-round winner – it's about as far from a 30p choccy bar as you can get. The flavour's intense – you can really taste the beans – and the texture is silky smooth. It's perfect for puddings, and it's a gourmet treat to nibble at, too. Chantal sums it up: "Lots of body, perfect." 19/20
70 per cent cocoa. £2.15 for 75g, Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Fortnum & Mason
There was not much to call between the top two but we agreed that this didn't quite match the organic. And it's more expensive. As Chantal said, it's "intense, mellow and balanced, like a vintage claret". 18/20
70 per cent cocoa, £4.95 for 50g, Harvey Nichols
A perfect after-dinner chocolate – you can almost smell Venezuela's forests in the nutty, fruity aromas. Jenny comments that "it's a bit sweet". The only fault is that it has a little too much sugar, which masks the natural flavours. 16/20
66 per cent cocoa. £2.15 for 75g, Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Fortnum & Mason
Best used for nibbling rather than cooking, the Caraibe has quite a distinctive flavour – it's slightly sour but fresh with sharp notes. It's very good but perhaps an acquired taste – our judges described it as "almondy" (Chantal), "a little sweet" (Jenny) and "hard but likeable" (Claire). 15/20
El Rey Gran Saman
70 per cent cocoa. £1.60 for 100g, Waitrose and Safeway
In the highest entry for the Venezuelan firm, you can taste the quality beans. The trouble is that it lacks the sophistication of some rivals. Although Jenny noted its "fruity flavour" and Claire found it "citrusy", it was outclassed in terms of depth and complexity. Still, it's pleasant to eat. 13/20
Amadei Premier Cru
70 per cent cocoa. £3.95 for 50g, Harvey Nichols
Amadei's formula of individually wrapped tablets ("Napolitains") suits this idea for an after-dinner anthology of six chocolates (Jamaica, Trinidad, Ecuador, Madagascar, Grenada and Venezolana). But the taste doesn't live up to expectations. The Venezolana was "flat and bland" (Chantal) and "waxy" (Jenny). The Grenada fared no better – "tastes ashy and burnt" (Chantal). 12/20
El Rey Bucaré
58.5 per cent cocoa. £1.60 for 100g, Waitrose and Safeway
Plenty of promise from the beans (no doubt of high quality) but the flavour is masked by way too much sugar for our panel of connoisseurs. It's OK to eat but put against the others, it's not in the same class when it comes to cooking. The texture wasn't right either – "smoky and gritty", as Claire concluded. 11/20
Green and Black Dark Organic
70 per cent cocoa. £1.38 for 100g, from most supermarkets and healthfood stores
At this point in the list, we venture outside the big-name firms. Frankly, it shows – although the Green and Black is a classy act compared to some of the others here. It's designed to be used in the kitchen but eats fairly well too. Jenny commented on its "nice dry flavour", Claire thought it "smooth and fruity". 10/20
Kaoka Dark Organic
70 per cent cocoa. £1.29 for 100g, healthfood stores
Cooking chocolate, but unsophisticated. It is quite fruity (Jenny suggested it had a hint of "berry") but overall the flavours are rough. "Too much sugar," says Chantal, "and it tastes of burnt rubber." 7/20
72 per cent cocoa. 79p for 100g, Tesco
Tesco's effort has a flavour our team described up as "dressed-up Bournville" (Chantal). As Claire added, it's "too sugary" and has a vanilla taste too strong for purists. Disappointing. 6/20
72 per cent cocoa. 79p for 100g, Waitrose
Compared to the gourmet brands which taste distinctly of their beans, this had strange unchocolatey flavours which Jenny likened to "pipe tobacco". Claire found the texture "gritty". Still, at least it's not as sweet as some. 5/20
Sainsbury's Plain Belgian
72 per cent cocoa. 75p for 100g, Sainsbury's
Not much character, no real intensity from the beans, and rather sweet. "Not made from good cocoa beans," concluded Chantal. Jenny found it had a "burnt taste". 4/20
Marks & Spencer Swiss Dark
55 per cent cocoa. 89p for 150g, Marks & Spencer
Tastes pretty sweet and lacked that bitter, "real chocolate" intensity. Overall, the panel found it too sickly, like toffee rather than chocolate. Any flavours behind it, Claire? "Burnt rubber". 2/20
Lindt Plain Dark
85 per cent cocoa. £1.19 for 100g. Most supermarkets
Some years ago we may have been impressed at its high cocoa content – but back then there was little competition. "Tastes like tar," according to Claire. Chantal was even less kind – "the extreme of inedibility". 1/20
The Chocolate Society, 36 Elisabeth Street, London SW1, tel: 020 7259 9222, or mail-order: 01423 322 230; Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, London W1, tel: 020 7734 8040, or mail-order: 0845 300 1707; Harrods, Knightsbridge, London SW1, tel: 020 7730 1234; Selfridges, 400 Oxford Street, London W1, tel: 020 7629 1234, or Trafford Centre, Manchester, tel: 0161 629 1234
Soft chocolate pudding
125g/41/2oz butter, plus more for greasing
2 teaspoons of flour, plus more for ramekins
125g/41/2oz dark chocolate chopped
2 eggs, plus 2 extra yolks
4 tablespoons caster sugar
Preheat oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Butter and flour five or six 150ml/1/4 pint ramekins. Melt chocolate and butter in bowl over a pan of simmering water – do not let bowl touch water. Remove. While melting, mix eggs, yolks and caster sugar with electric whisk until thick but light. Pour into warm chocolate. Dust with flour through a sieve. Fold together gently. Spoon into moulds. Place in oven for nine minutes. Remove and rest for one minute. Serving in ramekins or turned out on plates.
From 'Cookery Year: Spring into Summer' by Gary Rhodes (£18.99, BBC Worldwide).Reuse content