Going for the Brown
Sunday, February 26, 2006
TURIN -- It is indeed possible to have too much of a good thing.
We refer not to expectations for the U.S. team in this Olympics, which have turned out to be too high, nor to the crush of hyper Dutch fans everywhere in Turin, wearing orange crowns, orange wigs, orange cone hats and the occasional orange coat hanger on the head.
Rather, we refer to chocolate. You can actually have too much of it. For example, eating 16 kinds in three hours (in lieu of breakfast) turns out to be a mistake.
Turin's tourism people have created something called a ChocoPass, an expression of gastronomical excess on par with the Caesar salad for 3,000 people, created in Tijuana back in the '80s. For 10 euros, or about 12 bucks, an ambitious eater can go to 10 local chocolate shops and sample their finest goods. The cruel part is the whole thing must be done within 24 hours. Some of the samples can be taken away with you, but who can put a chocolate in his pocket and wait till later?
There is a truffle flavored with cinnamon (tastes like Red Hots) and one flavored with ginger (tastes, um, confusing) and -- the best -- a truffle with cardamom, which has a nutty depth. There is chocolate flavored with limoncello, the sweet lemon liqueur that local restaurants sometimes serve gratis. (Limoncello is great after a meal, but mixed with chocolate, it is cloying, like the U.S. speedskater Chad Hedrick, who boasts to reporters about the bigness of his heart.) There is a truffle made with grappa, an abrasive digestif , which tastes like a hangover. (We think of Bode Miller.)
And there is a truffle made with hot peppers, which tastes like any other chocolate at first, and then it surprises you, exploding on your tongue with come-from-behind power, rather like Shizuka Arakawa, who won the gold in women's figure skating. (American silver medalist Sasha Cohen is the dark and complicated chocolate made with an herb-steeped wine called barolo chinato. What angst lies behind that delicate visage? What makes her fall down?)
The chocolate-hazelnut combination this area is known for -- familiar to those who have eaten Nutella -- was invented as a means of stretching dwindling chocolate supplies in the 1800s. Lots of stores have their own variation on gianduia , often wrapped in gold foil. Some are too sweet, some not creamy enough. Done right, gianduia is as delicate and ethereal as the feeling of waking up from a great dream you can't remember.
There is toffee chocolate. There is hot chocolate, which at a store called Cioccolato Peyrano is made from a melted bar of chocolate mixed with milk. It is as thick as honey. There is something called a sabaudo, combining the chocolate-hazelnut paste with espresso, cream and crushed hazelnuts. This is served in a glass with a spoon and is so rich that even the memory of it could make you feel full.
At the famous Bicerin, there is a cake made of chocolate and coffee, inspired by the cafe's signature drink. There's a slow-moving line of tourists outside and a frazzled hostess who at one point takes to screaming in frustration. Perhaps she has had enough of this ChocoPass thing; we certainly have. Chocolate-eating is not meant to be some sort of cross-country endurance race.
It is better experienced as an aerialist's jump, bold and brief, twirling across your tongue.