When you think about the holidays where gifting chocolate is popular, Father's Day does not immediately come to mind. There's Halloween and Easter, of course, and Christmas—the biggest holiday for gifting chocolate there is. And let's not overlook the timeless appeal of Chanukah gelt. Then there's the oh-so-very romantic pair of Valentine's Day and Mother's Day.
Father's Day lacks respect, from the chocolate perspective, because people don't think chocolate is manly and that any self-respecting Dad who's not jonesing for power tools, a riding lawnmower, or personal watercraft really doesn't understand what Father's Day is all about. However, as a Dad and a chocophile, I prefer to think that it is gifters' attitude toward chocolate that really needs to be addressed. Not all chocolate is for wussies and Dads who crave chocolate shouldn't be made to feel that they somehow less than "adequate" if they ask for it.
Let's start at the top—the top of the cocoa content spectrum, that is. There are a number of what I call "heavyweight" chocolates—85 per cent cocoa content and above.
100 Per Cent Chocolate
There are some beautiful 100 per cent cocoa chocolate bars that need to be tasted to be believed. If you've ever eaten Baker's unsweetened chocolate you know that it's not edible—way gritty with an edgy acidic harshness. That's because it wasn't made to be eaten; it was made to be baked with. The harsh acidity activates the leavening ingredient and the cocoa particles will be hidden by the flour particles; one is necessary for texture and the other, well, why spend money on extra processing that won't be noticed? Making an edible 100 per cent chocolate bar (an acquired taste to be sure, but then so is Chartreuse—green or yellow, take your pick; they're both odious, in my opinion) requires extra-special care from the beginning to the end of the chocolate making process. The chocolate maker must start with great beans that are properly fermented and dried and then follow up with perfect roasting, grinding, refining, and conching. There is absolutely no room for mistakes.
Three brands that meet all these criteria are Bonnat, Claudio Corallo, and Domori. Domori makes six varieties of origin 100 per cent chocolate that would make a stunning gift for the hardcore chocophile in your life, though a sampler of one each from all three is an option not to discard lightly. I counsel restraint; too much of a good thing in this case is definitely too much of a good thing.
One great way to appreciate these heavyweight chocolates is to give them to Dad after a hearty dinner of steak with a Super Tuscan red wine, and paired with a brilliant single-malt Scotch. These 100 per cent beauties have what it takes to hold their own in that sort of taste bud smackdown.
99 Per Cent Chocolate And Below
If 100 per cent sounds too high, try 99 per cent. Michel Cluizel makes one called Noir Infini flavored with a small amount of bergamot oil (the flavor in Earl Grey tea). This aromatic, citrusy oil adds an elusive, elegant perfume to the bar that sets it apart from others. One nice thing is that Cluizel offers both small bars (30 grams) and tasting squares (5 grams). The squares are a perfect single serving size for the initiate and the bar is perfect for those who arrive at truly appreciating what a heavyweight chocolate has to offer.
So far we've been talking about non-US chocolate makers, but I do need to put a word in for some local manufacturers. Berkeley, California's Scharffen Berger makes a 99 per cent chocolate but unfortunately it's only available in a 9 ounce (255 grams) bar. This makes it a significant investment if Dad doesn't like it, but don't forget that any leftovers can always be used for baking. Across the bay and south of San Francisco, Guittard's 91 per cent Nocturne is, hands down, one of the best chocolates they make.
Where to Buy
When I started writing about chocolate in 2001 only one or two of these brands was available in the US. The explosive growth in interest in chocolate overall has lead to an interest in exploring more and more intense chocolate experiences—and all of the chocolates mentioned here deliver intense. What's more, to make giving a gift of manly chocolate easy, all of the chocolates mentioned are available online from a single source—Chocosphere.com. If you order right away, the chocolate can still arrive in time to give to Dad on his day.
If you really want to make Father's Day special this year, I can recommend a trip to Barcelona and a visit to Cacao Sampaka. The smoothness and finesse of their 100 percent Ecuadorian is sure to thrill any family intent on gifting Dad only the best. (While I have been to Barcelona, I did not taste this chocolate. However I can attest to the fact that everything tastes better in Barcelona—because you're in Barcelona.) While you're there, do not miss out on all the Gaudi architecture and make a special point to seek out his Dragon Gate.
About the author: Clay Gordon has been a professional chocolate critic since 2001 and is considered a pioneer of the literary genre of serious criticism about chocolate. His thoughts on chocolate have appeared in the pages of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Business Week, among many others. He has appeared on Oprah, on programs aired on Food Network and History Channel, and has been a regular guest on Martha Stewart Living Radio. Clay's first book on chocolate, Discover Chocolate was selected as a finalist in the International Association of Culinary Professionals' 2008 Cookbook of the Year Awards. A serious chocolate educator, Clay has created and moderates an online community for chocophiles and aspiring chocophiles, The Chocolate Life as well as helping to create and lead tours for serious chocolate fans for The Chocolate Lovers Travel Club.