Just in time for Valentine’s Day, local chocolate lovers gathered Feb. 11, at the Forest Park Public Library for “Chocolate 101.”
Local chocolatier Kevin Roblee, of Kokku Distinctive Gourmet in LaGrange made the presentation. Library patrons learned about the process of chocolate-making, as well as how to experience its flavor to the fullest.
“When I was growing up, there weren’t too many choices in the chocolate aisle,” said Roblee. Today, he explained, things are beginning to change. He described the world as being in the middle of a “chocolate renaissance,” as more people develop a taste for dark chocolates, and locally made chocolates rise in popularity. Stores specializing in chocolate are beginning to spring up across the world, and Roblee couldn’t be happier.
Roblee began his chocolate journey by working for World’s Finest Chocolate in Chicago after graduating with a degree in food sciences from University of Wisconsin. This soon led to an overseas assignment— he spent a year in Scandinavia, learning to make chocolate the European way. For four years, he worked at the Mansfield Chocolate Factory in Mansfield, Mass., which, while now idle, was at the time one of the oldest working chocolate plants in the U.S. It was there that he helped with the development of one of the first organic chocolates in the country, created for the Newman’s Own brand.
Roblee developed his expertise in the science and chemistry of chocolate. He founded Kokku Distinctive Gourmet six years ago. The name comes from Kokku’laay, a seacoast in the Far East, where ingredients such as cocoa beans, vanilla, and cinnamon can all be found.
According to Roblee, there are more than 60 cocoa-bean-producing countries in the world. Each country has its own distinct flavor profiles, with different environmental factors all contributing to the taste of the bean. The Madagascar bean, for example, is known for its fruity tones. Chocolatiers pick and choose their beans carefully, blending different types together to create unique flavors.
To enjoy all the subtleties of a chocolate’s flavor, Roblee explained, using all the senses is key. He encouraged the visitors to smell the chocolate and notice its colors before taking the first bite. He also advised letting the chocolate melt and coat the tongue in order to pick up all the unique nuances of taste.
The first chocolate sampled in Chocolate 101 contained 64 percent cocoa solids and was made using the Madagascar bean. Tasters noted a citruslike acidity to this chocolate, as well as hints of coffee.
The second chocolate was one of Roblee’s own creations. This one contained 62 percent solids, and the guests noticed raisin tones, with a nutty flavor and an overall earthiness. It was also smoother and quicker to melt than the previous sample.
Roblee’s company creates many artisan chocolate products, many developed by Roblee himself. Their creations include dark and milk chocolate bars, chocolate and caramel sauces, and even their locally-made vanilla extract.
Contrary to popular belief, dark chocolate does not always taste bitter. The bitterness in most factory-made dark chocolates is a result of burning the cocoa beans during the roasting process. In order to be considered dark, chocolate must contain a minimum of 55 percent cocoa solids. Since most of the nutrients lie in the solids, darker chocolate has more health benefits than its lighter counterparts. In fact, Roblee informed his audience that dark chocolate was recently declared a “superfood.” It has been shown to contain antioxidants and even improve heart health.
Roblee’s Chocolate 101 demonstration was an enlightening experience of seeing – and tasting – something familiar, like an ordinary candy bar, in a brand new way.