The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao With Recipesby Maricel E. Presilla
Ten Speed Press, 208 pp., $29.95
Maricel E. Presilla is a woman of many talents: anthropologist, author, restaurateur, chef, and cacao importer. With such a résumé and a family that includes generations of Spanish-Cuban cacao farmers, Presilla has an affinity for and mastery of the subject of chocolate that few other authors could ever hope to achieve. Her book, The New Taste of Chocolate, is a fascinating piece of work that provides serious culinarians and chocolate lovers alike with a clear understanding of theobroma cacao -- the "food of the gods" of Linnaeus' description -- from "the bean to the bar." Presilla establishes chocolate in its historical context and goes on to educate readers about the genetic, environmental, and chemical factors that critically impact the ultimate quality of finished chocolate products. She also, in her own words, reveals "the human face of cacao farming," with stories and pictures of chocolate workers taken from the many steamy equatorial regions where chocolate is now grown. Perhaps the most interesting information Presilla offers deals with the current revolution in the chocolate business that has companies such as El Rey, Omanhene, and Scharffen Berger marketing exclusive, upscale lines of single-origin chocolates with high percentages of cacao content. For those cacao-o-files prone to further study, Presilla includes a thorough glossary of cacao-related terms, a listing of mail-order sources, and a detailed bibliography. In my estimation, the least compelling aspect of the book are the 23 recipes provided by pastry chefs and chocolate experts from around the country, but it's possible that they would appeal to cooks with a passion for chocolate greater than my own. Regardless of the recipes, Presilla's well-researched and approachable book is a must-have for any cook with a serious desire to understand the cultural and natural history of chocolate.
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