I think my career might have peaked – should I just retire now, and go out in a blaze of sugar-coated glory?
Last week I received an email, the first line of which had me rubbing my trotters with glee: ‘We’d like to invite you to judge at the World Final of the International Chocolate Awards‘.
I‘d like to say, ‘Hell YES,’ I thought, so I RSVPd straight away.
The regular Ogglers among you might remember my first foray into Chocolate Judging at the European Semi-Finals of the same awards, back in May. On that occasion, I learnt the basics of tasting Chocolate properly, and tired myself out with a four-hour afternoon session.
This time I was able to pace myself, with a single two-hour stint on two consecutive mornings (the Tuesday and Wednesday of Chocolate Week, no less). Each session contained around 15-16 samples, placed in anonymous pots just like before.
This being the World Final, the stakes seemed that much higher: we were told we were tasting the ‘best of the best’; things which had already survived three previous rounds of judging, including numerous products which had won Gold and Silver Awards.
Following the same routine as last time, we warmed up our palates with three Dark Chocolate samples, tracking the evolution of flavours and comparing our results.
In a room that was filled with Grand Jury members – people who really knew their stuff – it was easy to feel a bit like the Great Pretender. Then, as decades of dedicated piggery kicked in, I soon got into the groove.
In the first two-hour session, we worked our way through Dark Origin Bars – a round I was familiar with from before. It quickly became apparent that, yes, the group overall was far superior to what we had judged in May: finer textures, fuller flavours; bars that were just more exciting to eat.
Not that I liked them all, mind you. At this stage I can’t get into specifics – the results have yet to be announced – but certain flavours had me pulling faces (and not the blissful/wowzers kind either). I expect this was down to personal taste, but thankfully they were few and far between.
In my second day’s session, our category was Ganaches, Pralines and Filled Truffles, mainly of the Dark variety.
Boy, do I love tasting Truffles, but they were no less of a challenge than the Bars.
Not only is there the filling to examine, but the presentation, the Chocolate shell… the whole shebang. It’s weird. In the semi-finals I remember them being easier to judge – this time each one took me minutes to prod and ponder.
Perhaps it was the quality issue: again, the standards were generally higher, with less to distinguish the great from the good. At times, the challenge was tricky. We were out to track down the globe’s finest, after all – you can’t slap on labels like that willy-nilly.
Even now I’ve got no idea who might come up trumps – there were several disagreements once the plates were cleared away.
There is one thing I’ll say for certain, however: there’s a world of exciting Chocolate out there. So no, I won’t be retiring.
As long as there are taste buds on my tongue, I’ll be darned if I stop using them.