Magnificent Obsession (#2)

Welcome to the USA!

Welcome to the USA!

A couple of years ago I noticed a disturbing trend: they tried to take my chocolate away from me.

No, there was no one riding up behind me on a Vespa trying to snatch the Hershey Bar with Almonds out of my hands as I walked along the sidewalk.

I’m talking about a subversive movement that seemed to be afoot to change us chocoholics into chocophiles. I think that sounds vaguely dirty, I resent it, and will not have any part of it.

They wanted us to have parties, and taste chocolate, like they do with wine! Can you imagine it? Melt a little square of chocolate in your mouth, trip the light fantastic with a few adjectives to describe it, spit it out, and then move on to the next. The whole affair just reeks of blue blazers and self control.

Thankfully, this trend has not taken hold. (Yet!) But the aftermath has not been pretty either: it seems that now there is a residual feeling that the only real chocolate is dark chocolate.

Oh, I so beg to differ.

I have a dirty little secret to reveal here: I think I have come to the conclusion that I prefer—dare I say it—milk chocolate.

Don’t misunderstand me: I love dark chocolate. I repeat: I love dark chocolate. 

The problem is that dark chocolate can be so intense. It requires a little bit of work, kind of like a friend who needs constant attention. But good milk chocolate is my friend who can sit with me in silence and neither of us feels conspicuous. We can sit and just “be.”

Before we proceed, you should know this about me: I am a sucker for a foreign wrapper. I once spent an entire afternoon in London roaming the aisles of the local Sainsbury’s (one of London’s grocery store chains.) Leave the famous Harrods’ food halls to the riff-raff; I had to see what Frosted Flakes looked like in London. Where others may bring back tchotchkes stamped, “London” on the side, I’ll bring back a bottle of dish detergent stamped, “By Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen.”

Anyway, a few months ago I noticed a small pile of foreign-looking, block-shaped chocolate bars sitting by the checkout counter of Westside Market. The name, “Damak”, was indecipherable to me, which as you can guess only added to the allure, as did the fact that the only recognizable word amongst the Turkish on the wrapper was “Nestle.”

But ever since I got stung with a surprise $7.50 price tag for a chocolate bar at Whole Foods I have been reticent to experiment unless I know the price going in. The cashier told me they were only $2.49—a surprise nowadays when chocolate bars usually grab at least $3.50 from your pocket—but one that lowered my expectations. What the heck. I took a chance.

Is it great chocolate? How do you answer that question? Nowadays chocolate has become a numbers game, albeit a misleading one. Dark chocolate bars run anywhere from 50% to 70% or more cocoa. The fancy-schmancy Scharffen-Berger Milk Chocolate bar is 41% cocoa; the Damak, as far as I can gather, is 29% cocoa (the percentage is buried in the ingredients listing.)

But the numbers here lie, because the Damak bar also has 14% Antep pistachios. Buttery, slightly sweet Turkish pistachios. As you can see from the photo they aren’t ground up, but, true to the picture on the wrapper, left big and chunky. And this is where the magic starts.

It is smooth, lacking the graininess that seems to have afflicted Hershey Bars of late, and seemingly waiting to melt if you smile at it too broadly; to borrow an old advertising phrase, it melts in your mouth and in your hands. I pop a square or two on my tongue, let it melt a bit, then crunch down on the pistachios and let the whole jumble just kind of linger there for a while. I know this sounds like something that requires concentration, but trust me, I can multitask while melting, and that’s perhaps the advantage of the low melting point.

The chocolate has a friendly caramel tang that may remind some of Nutella, but without the suffocating, fatty, frosting heft.

I have no idea what country or genus of cocoa trees the pods came from. I can’t speak to the type of fermentation they use on the beans or the conching process or how the chocolate is tempered. I’m not even positive what “Damak” means. Google it yourself and take your pick.

Do you care about any of that stuff? Or once and for all do you just want me to answer the question, “Is it great chocolate?”

Yes, because I enjoy it. Period.

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