As you know, I am a big fan of chocolate and I will never forget my chocolate journey across Brussels in December 2012, where I had a chance to taste one of the best chocolate products in Europe. Therefore, I was thrilled to accept a guest post from wonderful chocolate explorer – Doreen Pendgracs of Diversions With Doreen where she describes her chocolate journeys across the globe. For those who are not familiar with her, she has been a freelance writer and author since 1993. She has written dozens of articles that have appeared in numerous periodicals and websites. Moreover, she has recently published the first volume of Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate, a book about chocolate travel.
Best Chocolate Destinations Around the World by Doreen Pendgracs
I grew up in Canada eating chocolate bars, and the occasional boxed chocolates like Black Magic or Turtles, never really knowing or caring how chocolate was made or where it came from. It was only after I became a traveler, that I saw how and where the exotic foods we ate we grown and I developed an interest in that.
In 2009, I visited the Dominican Republic, and for the first time saw cacao growing, and discovered that’s where chocolate comes from! Cacao trees produce cocoa pods that contain 30-50 cocoa beans that are processed in a variety of steps and miraculously turned into chocolate. But cacao is a really difficult crop to grow. The trees need just the right conditions, and thrive only in the Amazon regions of South America, as well as in West Africa and other locales 20 degrees north or south of the Equator.
My most memorable journey of chocolate discovery was to Ecuador and Peru, where I was able to stay with cocoa farmers and participate in the harvest and to experience the effort put into growing the crop that creates our beloved chocolate. Whether it’s disease carrying ants, excess moisture that results in black rot, rats and other vermin eating the contents of the pods, or the Chinese rose beetles that are now ravaging the cacao crops of Hawaii, I quickly learned that growing cacao is not for the faint of heart.
If you get the chance to visit any of these growing regions and take a tour of a cacao plantation, do it! It will literally transform your appreciation for chocolate.
As part of the research for my series of chocolate travel books, Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate, it was also important for me to see how cocoa was processed and turned into chocolate in the countries that do it best. So off I went to Europe, where the world’s top chocolate masters reside. I learned that Belgium, Switzerland, and Holland are primarily known for the creaminess of their milk chocolate, although that is changing as more Europeans discover the pleasures of dark chocolate. You’ll now find excellent dark chocolate in countries such as Belgium being made by young and innovative chocolatiers (who work with prepared chocolate) such as Laurent Gerbaud and chocolate makers (who make chocolate direct from cocoa beans) such as Pierre Marcolini.
The French developed their own way of making ultra smooth chocolate that is less sweet and creamy than their European neighbours. The Italians, and Spanish have always preferred the intenseness of a pure dark chocolate, and continue to make their chocolate strong and pure much like the very first processed chocolate made in Europe by the Spanish in the early 1500’s.
Fantastic chocolate is now being made in the “New World” and countries such as the United States and Canada are creating tremendous chocolate made from cocoa beans grown around the world. So no matter where you choose to travel, you are likely to find fabulous chocolate if you know where to look for it.
Volume I of Chocolatour guides you through the best of Europe, with highlights from my visits to several growing regions. I’m currently researching volume II, which will feature the best of the Americas and the Caribbean. And volume III will take in Asia, Africa, Australia/New Zealand, India, and the Middle East. I’ve got a lot of traveling left to do, to gather stories for these, so please subscribe to Chocolatour for updates on my books and chocolate events, and to Diversions With Doreen for posts on my chocolate travels. It would be great to have you along on the journey.
Where did you taste the best chocolate in your opinion?
(For me, it was definitely Brussels!)