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Chocolate Tasting Party Set-Up

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I'm definitely not a foodie, and I happen to be pregnant, which really throws off my taste buds (let's eat mustard on EVERYTHING!). So bear with me, because my typical food-review ranges from "yum!" to "not yum."

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The four chocolates I shared were all pretty YUM, but the most YUM was Green & Black's Organic Milk Chocolate with Caramelized Peanuts and Sea Salt. I think I liked the fact that there was crunchy stuff to chew on, and the sea salt added a fun surprise. Lawyer will be shocked I picked that as my favorite of these four because I'm a dark-chocolate fan at heart. But I'm coming to realize that I like dark stuff for beginners (in the mild 45% range), so the Lindt Mild Dark was just right, the Chocolove Belgian Dark with Cherries/Almonds was pretty YUM, and the Madagascar Dark (80%) was totally NOT YUM. It tasted so bitter I almost had to wash my mouth out with mustard.

Now, on to some tips for setting up a Chocolate Party...

Besides our recent Sisteroo chocolate tasting party, I've hosted two other tasting parties—one in London, and one out here in the South. The London party was lavish with over-the-top gold and cocoa décor, heavy attendance (around 60 guests), and the finest chocolates Europe had to offer. My chocolate tasting party in the South was simple, smaller (around 20 guests), and it boasted a more modest chocolate selection. And to be honest, both parties were equally fantastic. If you're planning on hosting your own chocolate tasting party—whether spectacular or simple—these are the basic things you'll need to make that shindig a success:

PARTY ELEMENTS

1. Tasting Plate
Save yourself some stress and prepare "tasting plates" an hour or two before guests arrive. You can saran-wrap these chocolate-filled plates and keep them at room temperature for a few hours without any damage to the chocolate, and it will spare your fingers from dismemberment in hasty last-minute prep. Some hosts like to pass around a tray of chocolates when each new variety is introduced. But I personally like to present guests upfront with their own plate of chocolate pieces, so they can appreciate differences in color/texture before tasting. The color and size of plate you use is up to you (I used gold plates in London, and white stoneware in the South). The important thing is that you write numbers on your plates with either dry-erase marker (easily removable), or something more permanent if you intend to let guests keep their plates as a party favor. If the plates are mementos, consider stenciling the name and date of your party at plate's center. Below is my simple stoneware white Crate & Barrel plate, numbered in brown dry-erase marker:
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See? Doesn't have to be fancy to make the chocolates look good.
Plan on serving guests a chocolate square or wedge of between 1/2 and 1 inch. Otherwise, guests will have to roll out of your venue at evening's end.

2. Pallet Cleansers
Guests with sensitive taste buds need to clear their pallet after each chocolate, so provide goblets of water for swishing and swallowing. You also may want to provide palate-cleansing finger foods such as unsalted crackers, ladyfingers, shortbread cookies, or mild fruit sorbet.

3. Scoring Card
Here's the fun part. I like to add a bit of competition to my Chocolate Parties by allowing guests to "blind taste" the chocolates, without any information regarding cocoa content, brand, or added ingredients (just make sure your guests aren't allergic to nuts). We all taste each piece in unison, then write down guesses as to the cocoa percentage, texture and flavor notes. Depending on the chocolates I purchase, I modify the scoring card to include "flavor hints" that cue guests with the kinds of flavors they should be expecting. I usually serve at least one really low-grade disgusting, grainy chocolate, and one super expensive handcrafted chocolate, just to capture a broad spectrum.
Below are three different scorecards you can download for your party. I created these for my events and for the tasting party Actress hosted a couple years ago. The fourth download is blank, if you wish to customize the "flavor" section to fit the chocolates you purchase. Search wrappers or ingredient lists of your chocolate purchases to discover what flavor notes guests should taste (even if the cocoa beans were merely grown amongst a field of lavender, guests should be able to taste the lavender).

Score card 1
Score card 2
Score card 3
Score card Blank

4. Prizes
If you decide to add the competition element to your party, make sure to offer awesome prizes. For one of my parties, I gave out chocolate gift baskets as prizes. For the other, I hand-sculpted eight-inch gold, silver and bronze nose statuettes for trophies. Because, weird as it sounds, you have to taste chocolate with your nose (more on that in Shrink's post). If you're wary of sculpting body-parts, someone on etsy is selling a 23k gilded gold nose magnet for $40.

5. Décor
You don't have to decorate like crazy to throw a great party. But if you're into décor, there are some inexpensive fun ways to deck out your party. I created "chocolate tree" centerpieces with rolled newspaper cones, brown butcher paper and gold wrapping. Actress made giant Hershey's Kisses with newspaper and tinfoil (see below).

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5. Ambiance
Good music and dramatic lighting can drastically alter a chocolate tasting experience. I played Rachmaninoff and Gershwin, and dimmed the lights during our tasting in the South. This helped guests relax and focus on subtle flavors. For the London party, my new British and Expat friends enjoyed Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby. Golden red mood lighting and ceiling-strung party lights helped set a fun tone for the event, and it made my decorations look a lot cooler. Below is a (super fuzzy--sorry!) photo of the setup:

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All these things are important, but the most important element, of course, is your chocolate. More on that topic tomorrow with Actress, who will share the history and allure of this magical food...

4 comments:

Marie said...

What an awesome idea. My favorite part is the plating of the chocolate! You couldn't have designed this party better than a professional NYC catering company.

Caroline C. said...

Those with sweet tooth like me would love to attend a party like this. It's a good thing I know a NYC catering service that serves awesome desserts. I could host a dessert tasting party or something similar to that.

Beauty4Him said...

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Aluminium Clad Timber Windows UK said...

Awesome idea, something new never heard before.

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