October 13 marks the beginning of National Chocolate Week in the UK, and we're chuffed to bits about it. They're having demonstrations, workshops, and of course, tastings. We'd bite our arm off to be there, but we're 3,459 miles away.
Speaking of a long way, the English have jolly well come a long way since 1579. In that year, some English pirates burned a Spanish ship in which they had mistaken the precious cacao bean cargo for sheep droppings. Bit of a cock up, that.
But by 1660, the Brits had sussed out chocolate a bit better, as evidenced by Samuel Pepys' entry in his diary, "When I came home I found a Quantity of Chocolate left for me, but I know not from whom."
The English have been enjoying a spot of chocolate now for over 350 years. And in 2012, a casual royal comment all but assured that British chocolate will be safe for years to come: during her visit to Fortnum and Mason, the Duchess of Cambridge (once Kate Middleton, future Queen) declared "I love chocolate. I think all girls like chocolate!" Quite!
So, while they're having a smashing do this week in the UK to celebrate the confection that everyone fancies, we're here to help you get the gen on chocolates in the scepter'd isle:
First, we must mention Prestat -- chocolatiers to Her Majesty the Queen.
Established in 1902, and one of the oldest chocolate shops in London, Prestat were enshrined in literary history in Roald Dahl's racy novel "My Uncle Oswald":
'And where pray do we get delicious little chocolates these days?' she asked. 'You forget there's been a war on.'
'That's the whole point,' I said. 'A.R. Woresley won't have had a decent bit of chocolate since 1914. He'll gobble it up.'
'But do you have any?'
'Right here,' I said. 'Money can buy anything.' I opened a drawer and produced a box of chocolate truffles. Each was identical. Each was the size of a small marble. They were supplied to me by Prestat, the great chocolateers of Oxford Street, London.'
Pukka writing, that.
Another simply smashing shop (apparently) is Demarquette. At the 2012 Salon du Chocolat in Paris, Marc Demarquette was one of 12 chocolatiers awarded the honorary title of 'Ambassadeur du Salon du Chocolat' for dedication to the chocolate industry.
Brill. So if you plan to pop by London, splash out on some of these lovely chocolates. But indulge in moderation, so you don't go squidgy about the middle.
Of course, a little chocolate is good for you, provided you don't tuck into a pound at a time. Particularly well-made, artisanal dark chocolate. Over 340 years ago, the English already knew what modern science has since proven. Or at least one who knew was Dr. Henry Stubbes, a friend of philosopher Thomas Hobbes and well-known English authority on chocolate at the time. He said that the cacao bean by itself was harmless, while many of the ingredients added to chocolate at that time, such as sugar and eggs, were not. The same could be said of mass produced chocolate all these centuries later.
Well, anyway, you now have a taste of what they're on about in the UK this week. We're going to end it there because we're knackered from all this British chocolate research. If you are celebrating National Chocolate Week in the UK, give us a bell and tell us how it is.
Source: The True History of Chocolate, Coe & Coe, 2013.