I recently purchased a bar of Amedei Porcelana chocolate. Fog City News sells them for $11 here in San Francisco. When a bar of chocolate is individually numbered in a limited edition, you know it is going to be expensive… There are two reasons why boutique chocolates bars made in small quantities are better than mass-produced ones.
The first one is they don’t adulterate the cocoa butter with vegetable fats (a.k.a. margarine). The European Union yielded to British lobbying efforts and allowed this indefensible practice. Not that chocolate is the only product that legendarily taste-impaired nation tampers with. I lived in London in 1982, and remember my horror at finding out that vanilla “ice cream” included such fine ingredients as fish oil…
The second one is that big manufacturers like Nestle, Kraft Jacobs Suchard, Cadbury or Lindt produce such large volumes they can only retain cocoa varietals that are also grown in large quantities in industrial scale plantations, just as McDonald’s uses standardized potatoes grown to order. Furthermore, several varieties are usually blended for homogeneity, at the expense of character (echoes of the debate between proponents of blended vs. single malt Scotch whiskey). Smaller companies or smaller production runs do not have these constraints and can purchase high-quality cocoa beans that are grown in small quantities.
Venezuelan Criollo cocoa is widely considered the finest variety. It is not as strong (some may say harsh) as Forestero varieties, but has much more refined and complex flavor. It also has poor yields, making it unsuitable for the mass market. Porcelana is the most genetically pure variety of Criollo, and like the others, has mild but incredibly subtle aromas, without the aggressive acidity of some.
I find self-proclaimed connoisseur reviews that speak breathlessly of “fantastic tangy flavor, that evolves through wine and blue cheese to almost too sharp citrus” faintly ridiculous at best, and more than a little unappealing in how they are obviously patterned on wine snobs. That said, Porcelana is definitely a superlative chocolate. I don’t think I will be feasting regularly on it, due to the price, but it is certainly worth trying on special occasions.