Early last year, I found myself upgrading my chocolate and cacao tasting expertise with the International Institute of Chocolate & Cacao Tasting (IICCT), to a Level 2. This year, I am immensely excited to be participating as a judge for the European Bean to Bar competition, which will see craft chocolate made in Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Awards are a tricky subject lately. While it's true that there is great chocolate out there without award stickers, the reality is that the average chocolate consumer awareness on what makes a chocolate good, is still work in progress. Which means that seeing an award sticker on the front of a bar is often THE push-factor when choosing between bars which one knows little about. I know this because when I started my chocolate journey, I would think 'This chocolate won a gold/silver/bronze, so the maker MUST know what they're doing!'. And whilst today I know other factors such as batch and harvest affect the chocolate in my hand (just like wine) and therefore may not be the best iteration of the exact bar that won - I like knowing that once upon a time, the chocolate maker made it so damned well that it scored recognition from well trained palates. This is why I also pay attention to other awards, such as the Brazilian Premio Bean to Bar Brasil which judges local Brazilian bean to bar chocolates, the UK based Academy of Chocolate awards and finally, the US Good Taste awards.
The best part about the certification was not only the incredible things I discovered about chocolate and cacao, but more than that, it was learning it all alongside like minded (and wonderful!) classmates from chocolate makers to chocolate sommeliers.
Now, time for me to make my palate neutralising warm soupy polenta. One has little choice when there are hundreds of chocolates waiting to be tasted...
A screen shot of the the beginning of the judging form/system