One of the things that is true of all gastronomical combinations is to stick with flavors that are grown together in nature. By combining flavors that grow together, you are able to create a more sympathetic palette and a more pleasing taste. Nowhere is this truer than the combination of cigars and chocolate. Both were originally grown together in Pre-Columbus America and both are still grown together today. Their flavors continue to influence and enhance each other.
Chocolate is a product made from the seed pods of the cacao tree. Originally native to the tropical regions of the southern region of Central America or the northern region of South America, it is now grown in a region of the world about 20 degrees either north or south of the Equator, with production now concentrated in the Ivory Coast of Africa. About 40% of the world’s cocoa production is made in the Ivory Coast, not just because of the ideal growing conditions, but also because of the availability of cheap labor. You can also find cocoa production in the Caribbean islands (most notably Trinidad), South America, Central America and Hawaii. Cacao trees are small, growing to about 4 – 6 feet in height. The cacao pods grow off the trunks and branches. The pods are harvested when ripe, and then the seeds are removed & fermented to bring out the familiar chocolate flavor. It is important to only harvest ripened cacao pods, as unripened pods won’t have enough sugars in the white fibrous tissues to develop the chocolate flavors properly when fermented. After fermentation, the seeds are left to dry for 5 – 7 days in the sun. Once dried properly, they are removed from their shells, ground up & liquefied. This is now called chocolate liquor. It is a combination of cocoa powder & cocoa butter.
All good quality chocolates are made of a combination of cocoa powder, cocoa butter, sugars, milk or milk powders and sometimes vanilla extract. Good quality chocolates are tempered properly to increase the mouth feel of the chocolate. Tempering is a process of melting and cooling the chocolate to create just the right type of crystal formations in the chocolate that gives it the characteristic melt point at body temperature, and the smooth creamy texture. Improperly tempered chocolate will be crumbly feeling & will melt too quickly, due to the wrong types of crystals present. As with fine cigars, the care taken in the manufacture of the chocolate is evident in the quality of the final product.
Dark chocolates are filled with antioxidants that reduce free radicals and inflammation in the body, making dark chocolate, when eaten in moderation, a great choice in a healthy diet. Dark chocolate has also been shown to reduce blood pressure in people, further adding to its allure as a great food. Chocolate, as any woman can tell you, is also highly addictive. Its seductive feel on the tongue, as well as creamy feel as it slides down the throat can be downright irresistible. Just be careful with the amount you consume. Cocoa butter is high in fat, so as always, too much of even a good thing can be bad for you. So next time you sit down to enjoy a rich dark stogie, have a couple of pieces of fine quality chocolate truffles with it. It’s sure to be a perfect pairing.