Cataloguing a chocolate collection
What with review samples, tasting samples, bags of bars brought back from shows, new products, requested items, unsolicited items, couverture for workshops, liquor, cocoa powder and butter, cacao samples, gifts from travels and the otherwise weird and wonderful, my chocolate sample cupboard has been getting both full, chaotic and long-overdue for a clear out.
Getting organised is not always my forte though, but luckily this weekend my sister and family were staying with me, so guided buy the lovely Sarah Pillar (née Christy), the collection is now organised (though not yet entirely sorted) into the following categories:
Chocolate catalogue categories
Bars in the queue to be reviewed. I’m always behind with this, despite best efforts. I may list these in date order at some point, so they get dealt with while at maximum freshness
Chocolate laid down for posterity and preserved as well as possible. Examples include Amedei Chuao from 2003, Domori from the launch of Hacienda San José in 2004 and Valrhona Gran Couva 2004 (might even be earlier, I have to dig deeper). The collection took a blow about though two years ago when a plumber unplugged the chocolate (ie wine) fridge and I didn’t notice for about three weeks. I still need to go through it all and assess the damage.
Long term, it would be good to establish this at a more permanent location in a controlled environment. This might sound quite nerdy, but I think it could be really useful in the chocolate world to know how, for example, Valrhona Caraïbe tasted seven years ago. Who’s to say it’s the same and therefore that recipes based on it then are still valid now? In any case, comparison sampling of different batches produced over time can be very illuminating.
A laid down reference of various samples given to me or acquired at various times, which I started ‘filing’ some time ago. Generally, these are not from top rank chocolate makers and wouldn’t get used for tastings or events, but are worth keeping for reference. As such, I’ve not made a priority of keeping these in good condition – it’s not so much the chocolate that’s relevant, but the brand or company. Includes quite a few country origin bars picked up in Ecuador, Venezuela, etc.
More often than not bars in this category are worth trying once for reference, but there’s not much to be gained by going back to them. (With more time, they might have been reviewed – but, so many bars, so little time …)
Quite often older samples that have been opened for tastings, or bars that missed reviews and our now out of date. Also bars that don’t quite make it into the ‘Heritage’ section, but are still worth keeping for comparison with later batches or as the only sample available of a particular chocolate when, eg, writing about a related chocolate. Useful to double check how something tasted, especially if not yet reviewed. Could also include bars kept for the relevance of their bean origin, rather than for the quality of the actual chocolate.
A small pool of bars, carres and samples for tasting and events, usually provided by chocolate makers or companies.
Used mostly in workshops or our public talks, usually supplied by makers or distributors.
Bars or samples I’m thinking about or have to do something with, but not review. Could be bars I’d like to blog or Tweet about, get back to someone about, retry or perhaps a development sample. In actuality a couple of plastic boxes I tend to keep in the study. A kind of chocolate ‘inbox’.
Odds and sods and collectables, weird and wonderful bars or other chocolate items picked up or given to me in various places. Sometimes with a nostalgic rather than quality meaning, like a box of chocolates from Dina’s chocolate shop in Panajachal, on the shores of lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Not world beating chocolate, but a reminder of a great experience (was there for my birthday on 08-08-08!)
Leftover, open event bars, out of date tasting stock or couverture, samples no longer required. In other words anything that doesn’t fit in the above and can sit by my desk for casual snacking purposes – a guy’s got to have some fun some time!
There were a couple of other categories that came and went during the initial clearout: Rubbish – old, spoiled or out of date chocolate that just wasn’t worth keeping or passing on to anyone. This ended up in the bin. Spare – extra samples or items that I wasn’t going to keep, but could be used for munching or cooking. These went to the Pillar family for their hard-work, love and support.
This all sounds a bit complicated, but hopefully will leave me more organised and better able to get through my review list, and will help getting a whole batch of bar photos done as well.
I’d welcome any comments or suggestions or would love to hear anyone about how anyone else ‘curates’ their collection.