Sure, after a sip or two you can tell the difference between a Pouilly-Fume and a Pouilly-Fuisse, but can you pinpoint the region from which your after-dinner chocolate hails? That's the latest challenge facing today's gustatory snobs, who in this age of excess must find new ways to set their palates apart from those of the masses. Let them eat Milky Ways and M&M's. The true elite prefer dark chocolate, these days known as pure dark or grand cru or vintage or whatever other nomenclature specialty companies such as Sharffen Berger, E. Guittard, Michel Cluizel or Chocolove dream up. What's in a name, you ask? According to a recent survey by the National Confectioners Association, nearly 30% of consumers now prefer dark chocolate to other varieties.
"Even without an educated palate, I can tell the difference between a 72% Madagascar and a 72% Venezuelan bean," sniffs Pierrick Chouard, owner of the American subsidiary of Michel Cluizel, a French chocolatier that puts a genealogy of its cocoa beans inside its gift boxes. In the U.S., the Colorado-based Chocolove takes its cue from another prestige consumable and sells a chocolate humidor, a cedar-lined box that protects the candy from the elements. Its president, Timothy Moley, can tell "whether or not the beans were ripe, whether they were fermented and cured properly and how long it's been since they were made into chocolate." A word of warning to other would-be aficionados: Moley keeps his taste buds spry by eating a pound of chocolate every week.
--By Nadya Labi