Storing Chocolate and Starting a Chocolate Cellar
We get asked many questions about storing and collecting chocolate. With the warm days of summer approaching it seems like a good time to tackle this subject. A dark chocolate bar is a remarkably stable and durable product, yet many people seem unsure of just what to do with it once they've bought one. It is best to think of a fine chocolate bar just like a fine bottle of red wine and treat it the same.
- Do not put it in the fridge or freezer. Extremes of either cold or heat will break the delicate emulsion your chocolate maker has worked so hard to achieve. Eventually the bar will “bloom” or separate and the cocoa butter will rise to the surface as a whitish haze. Not pretty and easily avoided by keeping your storage temperature stable. Bloomed bars are still OK to eat but they won't taste correct. Best to use them for baking or hot chocolate.
- Keep your chocolate out of the kitchen cupboards. Even your baking chocolate. It is far too warm, and far too moist in your kitchen for proper storage. Also chocolate will readily absorb any odours in the air and will end up smelling like whatever you cooked last night.
- Find a cool, dark spot somewhere in your house to be the chocolate cellar. Something that stays under 70F year-round is perfect. Make sure there is nothing in there that might have a strong odour – cleaning products, cedar, mothballs, etc...
- Store your bars in a plastic or metal container with a tight fitting lid. If you open a bar but don't finish it store the remainder in a zip-lock baggie with the original wrapper and put it back in your cellar box.
How long does Chocolate keep?
If properly stored, a dark chocolate bar can last for 2 -3 years before it shows signs of aging. Milk chocolate somewhat less, and bars with inclusions such as nuts and dried fruit are best consumed sooner rather than later.
Can Dark Chocolate “Go Bad”?
Not bad as in “spoiled”, but when a bar gets too old it loses its fresh, glossy surface and begins to taste dry and mealy. This happens at different rates for every bar so only regular sampling from your cellar can determine how your stock is faring. Most chocolate bars do have a best before date but I find many bars are still in fine shape long after that date has passed. Storage (or the lack thereof) is the main determining factor in a bar's lifespan.
Why Have a Chocolate Cellar at All?
There are different bars for different occasions: times of day, moods, weather, groups of friends, and events in your life. No one bar can possibly do it all. Having a selection on-hand ensures that you can choose the right bar (or bars) for that moment without having to pop out to the store first. One of the nicest ways to share great chocolate is with friends at the end of a dinner party. Usually though, by the time you decide to have an impromptu tasting, you have had a couple of drinks and it's getting late in the day - a very bad time to jump in the car for a chocolate run (and your favourite chocolate shop will probably be closed!).
You can stock up on bars you really love. One of the things that separates artisanal chocolate from commercial bars is that these are made in very small batches, sometimes from a single bag of beans. Many are marked by the date of harvest, just like a vintage wine, and next year's bar is not going to taste exactly like this year's. Craft chocolate makers will often produce a bar for a while and then just stop making it. Either they can no longer source those beans or they have decided to introduce a new bar and can only grind, conch and package so many products. Either way, it is painful to find a chocolate bar that absolutely knocks you out and when you return to the store for another only to hear that it is sold out and/or no longer in production it's a huge disappointment. The list of great bars I wish I still had in my cellar is very, very long indeed...