And the Best Chocolate Is …
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Here’s a confession: When it comes to chocolate, I’m perfectly happy with a Hershey bar.
The reason this qualifies as a confession is that chocolate has become the latest domain of gustatory snobbery. If you listen to serious foodies talk about chocolate these days, you might think they’re discussing wine or whiskey, complete with all the insufferable highbrow stuffiness. Admit to these people that you actually deign to eat milk chocolate, instead of dark, and they’ll look at you like you’ve got a three-fingered hand growing out of your back; admit that you eat Hershey’s and they’ll move to the next room and pretend you don’t exist.
I like super-premium dark chocolate as much as the next guy — maybe more — but I’m also suspicious when a food scene embraces rock star personas like Jacques Torres and Max Brenner. The latter, who likes to call himself “the Bald Man,” recently opened a huge new shop just south of Union Square. And in the case of chocolate, too many people have latched onto cocoa content — 60%, 70%, whatever — as an all-purpose barometer of quality, when the truth of the matter is that bean quality, processing methods, and countless other variables are much more important. That’s why two 70% bars can taste so radically different, and why some high-priced chocolates don’t always taste as good as, well, a Hershey bar.
So I was intrigued when Hershey’s unveiled a new line of premium chocolates earlier this month. Called Cacao Reserve, the line currently includes four distinct formulations (with four more to come this winter), including a 65% dark chocolate bar. Could this bar hold its own against the city’s premier chocolatiers? And how would the rock stars stack up against each other?
With those questions in mind, I recently went on a shopping tour of the city’s top chocolate shops. In order to compare apples to apples, I purchased only dark chocolate — no special flavors, no nuts, no added gewgaws. I also picked up a few bars of Hershey’s new Cacao Reserve (which at the moment is only available at the Hershey’s Times Square shop on Broadway and West 48th Street, although it should be entering broad retail distribution in the coming weeks), along with some standard Hershey’s Special Dark, to function as a control.
Then I gathered 10 serious chocolate hounds — one of whom actually eats chocolate every morning before she gets out of bed — and set up a taste test. The tasting was completely blind. Each chocolate was identified only by number; if the chocolatier’s name was molded into the bar, I used a Microplane to shave off the name. Water, wine, and strawberries were provided as palate cleansers.
The tasting produced some surprising results. Although the runaway favorite was a single-plantation bar from Michel Cluizel (the French chocolatier whose shop is located inside ABC Carpet & Home), the new Hershey’s product placed a strong second, with Godiva — usually better known for its truffles and gift boxes than for solid bars — coming in third. Meanwhile, the chocolate world’s reigning French rock star, Jacques Torres, took a drubbing, with two of his bars earning nothing but scorn and a third finishing in the middle of the pack. The Bald Man didn’t fare too well, either.
As for me, I’m still happy with a Hershey bar. But I’m even happier with some of the high-end bars we sampled.