Scavenger Hunt, Trick-or-Treat, Chocopass

Well, after a tough week it was time to relax. We had our introduction to Sensory Analysis. That included two class excercises. In the first we were tested for visual analysis. We were given a series of various geometric shaps with various parts of them shaded. Our task was to mark on a linear line how much was shaded from 0%————–100%. I did really well on that one. Then the instructor passed around 9 small bottles of concentrated scents and some strips of filter paper. We were to dip the paper in the vial, shake it so it wasn’t so strong and then identify the odor. I got 5 out of 9 and felt very embarrased. I thought my sense of smell and odor recall was better than that. Then we moved to the sensory analysis lab in the other building. We were seated in individual boths with a computer screen above us, a mouse on the desk and a keyboard below (we didn’t use the keyboard). Under a panel of the desk was a sink with a water source. We were give a cup of water and some crackers. The first test was bitterness. A panel in the wall of the cube slid open and a plate with 4 samples of chocolate was presented. We were to taste each sample, eat cracker and drink water and then taste another sample. The task was to rank the 4 types of chocolate in order of bitterness. Then we were given 3 samples of cheese and were told to indicate the one that was different. They were parmigiano type cheeses. Next we had a test of umami (savoriness). We were given a dilute solution of monosodium glutamate (a reference for umami) to “learn” the taste of umami. Then we had 5 samples of snack type crackers and were supposed to check “yes” or “no” if they taseted of umami for each sample. Then we were given three samples of a liquid (white wine). The first was a reference and we were to determine which of the other two matched the reference. Lastly we had two samples of apricot juice. The instructor had added a little bit of sugar to one. We were to determine the sweeter one. All this sounds easy. It wasn’t. We will find out next week what the distribution of responses was and how we compared to our classmates.

Well, the day after that trying day we had more lectures on the molecular basis of taste. Much of it was organic chemistry and sort of review for me…if you can call the stuff I recall 30+ years after being taught review. The interesting thing is that while the instructor was lecturing, she was making cheese to demonstrate the coagulation of proteins into something good. She started with milk. Luca (I talked about him in a previous blog) brought in some raw milk. The instructor added rennet and set the beaker (yes, a beaker!) on a hot plate. It was slow but it finally did its thing and formed curds and she strained off the whey and we had cheese. I think that Luca would have done it MUCH better.

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So, getting to the title of the blog, it was time to relax on Saturday. June really wanted to go to the Chocolate Festival in Torino (http://www.cioccola-to.it/home.php). Torino is a big chocolate city. We caught the 9:19 AM train (in spite of going to our first class party that BEGAN at 9:00 PM Friday night) and picked up our Chocopass at the Tourist Office at the Porto Nuovo train station in Torino. The Chocopass contained a map of 18 different chocolate destinations (chocolate shops, bars, caffes, etc) scattered around Torino. In the Chocopass were coupons that we could redeem for chocolate samples. We went to the nearest location and discovered that there were two numbers (locations) on the coupon which meant that if we used it there we wouldn’t have one for the next place. Since we bought a Chocopass for each of us we used one at one location and the other at the next. It worked swell. The reason for this posting’s title is this. When we entered a shop either we, or the shop keeper seeing the Chocopass in our hand would say, “Chocopass.” Then the shop person would hand us a small packet of a few pieces of chocolate to sample. We put them in our bag and went to the next place where…”Chocopass!” It reminded us so much of Halloween combined with a scavenger hunt to find the locations. Sometimes they didn’t had out candy. Once they gave us a cup of thick, rich dark, chocolate with cream whipped into it that needed a spoon to eat. Another time they gave us a piece of chocolate and pear tart (delicious!). It was interesting because we got to see a lot of Torino that we might not have ever encountered, we got to walk a lot and we saw some great chocolate shops for future reference.

After that we went to the place where the main activities were held. There were a couple dozen tents where various types of chocolate were sold.

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The centerpiece of this was a huge pavillion that had a chocolate Italy with chocolate replicas of historic buildings in the various regions ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKPubSGvBZY&feature=player_embedded ).

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There was one tent that showed how chocolate was made.

At the end of our afternoon we found ourselves by 8 tables that were set up. Standing by each table was a woman in fancy old style Italian gowns handing out chocolate samples and the chocolatier who made the chocolate. For €2 one could purchase a card with 8 slots in it. You’d take the card to the table, be given a sample of chocolate and the chocolatier would sign a chocolate wrapper and put it in the slot corresponding to his chocolate on your card. Fun!

After all the chocolate filled excitement of Saturday we had a calm Sunday. We picked a few things at the store that we needed, stopped for aperitivo (drinks and snacks) and strolled the streets of Bra like so many other of the residents on this beautiful, sunny spring day (temperature was 22 degrees — aka 72F). It is amazing how many people come out and stroll in the evenings, but especially on the weekends and especially in great weather like this. Families walking, eating gellatos, and visiting with friends.

I’ve mentioned aperitivo. In the late afternoon or evening when you order anything with alcohol (beer, wine, mixed drink) food is always brought with it. It varies from place to place but always is good. Here is an example from Torino, but Bra has many places we have enjoyed similar snacks. Some people after work go out with friends and make a meal of aperitivo.

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Sometimes I have to pinch myself to be sure this all is really happening. I just wonder when I will get tired of it. I’ll let you know…I’m sure…

Ciao!

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