National Public Radio, one of my absolute favorite things on earth, had a fascinating story recently on how ritualizing something actually increases our enjoyment of it. To make their point, the researchers used a ritualized way of eating a chocolate bar. They asked subjects to refrain from unwrapping it, to break the candy bar in half, then unwrap one half, eat the candy, unwrap the other half, then eat the other half. The other group of volunteers were told to eat the candy bar exactly as they would like. Researcher Francesca Gino said there was a huge difference in the experience of people who had performed the ritual. (Incidentally, it wasn’t only true for chocolate, but carrots.)
Rituals seemed to increase anticipation and make people more mindful of what they were eating. To get the enhancing effect, you had to actually perform the ritual yourself, and it couldn’t be something random, like just swinging your arms in the air. Not only did you have to follow a very specific script, you had to engage in the ritual every single time. That is what gave the ritual its power.
Francesca Gino found when people engage in rituals, even very simple ones, what they tasted was more flavorful, they savored it for longer and they would be willing to pay a higher price for what they just ate. As the National Public Radio story showed, some things simply deserve to be made into rituals, and chocolate is clearly among them.
I have found the simple act of being grateful before eating ritualizes my food. When I forget to be thankful I notice my repast is not as exquisitely delicious as it would have been had I taken the time to stop and assess how lucky I am to be eating something delicious.
All of this is to say that certain foods, especially artisanal chocolates, merit one’s full attention.
Recently, I had the extreme pleasure of sampling a few truffles and Peruvian Fortunato No. 4 Porcelana chocolate from Patricia’s Chocolates in Michigan. The Fortunato bean is of the Nacional variety, and has been mentioned on this site before for its complex and utterly toothsome floral fruit flavors. It is the grandparent of all cacao, and had been thought to have been extinct until 2007 when 23 trees were found in a remote river valley in Peru. Some of the pods contained both purple and white beans, while others (Porcelana) only white ones.
Patricia’s 68% Grand Cru Porcelana mini-ingots came packaged in a simple, lovely black box with a gauzy ribbon. Ten little rectangular blocks lined up like soldiers waiting to be savored, each adorned with a curvilinear cocoa pod design. This extremely delicious chocolate begs for involvement of all five senses. The scent is nuanced, but noticeable, the look artistic, while their lovely temper makes them firm and slightly glossy. The flavor is rich, complex, but not intrusive. This Nacional is more redolent of terroir and coffee than others I have sampled, which makes it feel a bit more adult.
I also tried six of Patricia’s truffles and caramels, each of which came enrobed in a thin coating of dark chocolate. Though it may sound like an oxymoron, her Madagascar Vanilla had a bold, rich vanilla bean flavor. No wonder it has been paired with chocolate for ages. Here, it highlighted the three dark varieties she uses: 58%, 64% and 72% chocolate. The Ultra Dark with Cognac was seamlessly balanced, with neither cognac nor chocolate predominating, yielding a super silky almost enlightened chocolate experience. Michigan Blueberry with dried Michigan blueberries and Maine wild blueberry wine, was creamy and delicate. Pear Caramel was another not-too-sweet delight infused with a hint of Black Star Farms’ pear brandy. Mint, a dark ganache with mint leaves, had just enough herb to wake up my palate without overwhelming it. Strawberry Balsamic Caramel was soft, but not runny with an undercurrent of smokiness, giving it added depth and interest. I liked all of these. There are 22 other flavors available, including Passion Fruit Mango Caramel, Mandarin Ginger, with Mandarin orange puree and ginger, Tawny Port Raisin, Blood Orange, and Habanero & Chipotle. The quality was wildly fresh, the execution evolved, and the taste like a haiku: subtle and lingering.
I love Patricia’s line about her wares: “Art that melts.” It so pithily conveys the ephemerality of all beautiful experiences, encouraging us to savor them while we can.