Thursday evening found me wandering along to St Georges Church in Bloomsbury for a lecture on Sir Hans Sloane and his alleged discovery of milk chocolate. The church, which has just been restored to its original design and layout was quite an apt location for the talk, as it was where Sir Hans used to worship when he lived in the area, so as we sat in the pews on the ground floor, we could imagine the ghost of Sir Hans sitting in the galleries above looking down on us.
Even more appropriately, the talk was started by Frank Macey, who not only lives in the parish – but is also a director of the Sir Hans Sloane Chocolate Company.
I wont go into detail about the talk itself as it was a nice swift romp through the life of Sir Hans, and his passion for collecting books and antiquities – which later went on to form the core of the original British Museum.
However, the lecture was also to introduce the story of milk chocolate – and here there is a bit of contention.
Milk chocolate was more like what we today call "hot chocolate", but there is dispute about who actually invented it. There is the possibility that Sir Hans saw local Jamaicans drinking chocolate in this way, he may have developed it himself, or one of his chefs may have invented it – no one is really sure.
The product was later sold by Cadbury – and then seemed to die out as a brand sometime in the mid 20th century.
Then came along, Chocolatier, chef and Academy of Chocolate committee member Bill McCarrick (an American!), and in ways which were not actually explained – formed the modern chocolate firm with the same name as the original – so yet again it is possible to buy Sir Hans Sloane’s Milk Chocolate. They also sell a lot of other chocolates, truffles and the like in some of London’s department stores.
Bill gave us a run through of how he works the chocolates – and his key difference was being the first independent chocolatier to roast (conch) his own chocolate beans, and also by doing so over a much lower heat and at a longer time frame gets a much smoother flavour than you would expect from the large commercial firms.
As he talked – pieces of chocolate were passed around to taste. I have to admit that while the texture was wonderful, for my personal palette, the taste was not what I quite like. I tend to like quite dark, rich chocolate and this was a more "commercial" blend of milk and dark chocolates. Nice – but not quite my sort of thing.
However, the truffles – oh, gods, the truffles! A thin shell which cracks cleanly and sharply as you bite, and then a soft creamy interior which had me practically sliding off the chair in delight.
In addition to the department stores, the chocolate is also sold in the British Museum, and I want to pop along to buy a jar of the classic hot chocolate which sounded rather interesting – as they blow coca over sugar grains and then roll them to polish the chocolate into little pearls.
A glass of wine followed the talk and tasting, held in the undercroft which currently has an exhibition on the restoration of the church. I was accompanied by a conservationist friend, who happens to work for the firm which did much of the interior restoration work.
I seem to be running into Sir Hans a lot at the moment, as I was at a lecture a few weeks ago about the British Library project to recreate a record of his original library – and the other week, the gin tasting event was in a charity he co-founded. I also rather like the British Museum, which was founded with his private collection. Curious.