Saturday, August 13, 2011

Scharffen Berger Extra Rich Milk Chocolate

To understand the genius that is Scharffen Berger Extra Rich Milk Chocolate, let us review what we learned from the tour guide at their factory in Berkeley. The FDA mandates that dark chocolate must have a minimum cocoa content of 35%. SB Extra Rich Milk chocolate blows by that requirement with its 41% cocoa, approaching the 45% of Hershey's Special Dark. If you're a chocolate snob, wait. I know your mouse started moving towards the back button as soon as you read "Hershey," but bear with me.
So what's the big deal? Is SB Extra Rich Milk just a weak dark chocolate? No. Emphatically. Compared to a dark chocolate that by definition has little or no milk, the deep, rich, caramelized milk flavor in SB's bar stoutly declares its presence. Quite simply, it is The Best Milk Chocolate In The World. And before you ask, yes, I have tried them all.
Now back to that high cocoa content. In common milk chocolates the sugar and milk typically overpower the cocoa, and to detect any chocolate at all you need the palate of a sommelier, or at least his uniform. By contrast SB's milk chocolate boasts a robust cocoa flavor that any fan of dark, cocoa-laden bars will savor with a knowing smile. It also happens to be one of the creamiest, smoothest chocolates around. Extra Rich indeed.
Back at the factory the guide explained that the production of SB Extra Rich Milk involves spinning vats of molten chocolate at very high speeds, and it is this spinning that generates the gentle heat which caramelizes the delicate sugars, i.e., the lactose, in the milk. The result is a flavor recalling Dulce de Leche in a distinct undertone to that walloping 41% cocoa. Chocolate still reigns supreme, but here it is a benevolent monarch, allowing others to have their say.

As promised, a note about Hershey. First, if you are desperate, Hershey's Special Dark is actually quite tolerable. While it isn't the Lindt 70% that you crave, it is certainly easier to find at your average corner drugstore or gas station. Second, Hershey bought Scharffen Berger. It also owns Dagoba. These acquisitions have earned it some street cred as a manufacturer by proxy of quality small-batch chocolate. (Nevertheless, no Kisses for this chocolate snob, thank you very much.) But of course Hershey is still Just Another Big Company - they closed the original small Bay Area factory where we took that memorable tour. Thankfully the quality of the product has not suffered, and for that they deserve credit.

In Dallas, Scharffen Berger Extra Rich Milk is available at Central Market; World Market seems to have foolishly stopped carrying it. Pick up a bar the next time you go chocolate-shopping.


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