Chocolate: Milk or Dark?

Milk Chocolate

He Said: As many of you know, we sometimes celebrate national food holidays here at LC. Peanut butter, crabmeat, corned beef. The best so far, though: tequilaBoo-yah!

Then came the travesty that cleaved our virtual office in two: chocolate. Yesterday was National Milk Chocolate Day. Why Americans see fit to celebrate a blasphemy such as milk chocolate is beyond the pale and, frankly, beyond me.

Milk chocolate? Really America? Really PR people who tout these holidays? I’d rather celebrate National Dietary Fiber Day (Oh, wait there actually is one!) than bow and scrape to the contessa of the checkout counter.

Milk chocolate, with its saccharine personality and pallid complexion, is training wheels for children. It’s an indiscriminate infatuation that can, over time and with a deft parental hand, be nurtured into a healthy adult attraction to the joys and mysteries of dark chocolate. It’s like how my godfather got me to drink wine. When I was five or six, he planted me in one of his chrome kitchen chairs with the plastic seat that stuck to the back of my thighs and schooched me into place at the table. Then he poured an inch of red wine into a Flintstone’s jelly glass, topped it with a few fingers of water, and stirred in a goodly amount of sugar.

I feel sad when I see a grown man or woman jonesing for a milk chocolate bar or bypassing glassy mahogany domes in a chocolate box for the mocha-colored misfits. I have to restrain myself from initiating an intervention.

I must confess, I wasn’t always a dark chocolate fan. When The One and I met, I was a dyed-in-the-wool consumer of the lesser chocolate. He, an ardent admirer of the greater. At first, it was a match made in cacao-nib nirvana. Any box that came our way as host gifts or on birthdays or Christmas was neatly and equitably divided. But over the years, as he espoused the glories and advantages (including health benefits) of dark chocolate, I was slowly, irrevocably converted. He was my very own chocolate Darth Vader who ushered me trippingly and eternally over to the Dark Side, where I’ve been residing happily with face a-smudged for almost a decade.

To me, when chocolate has to be categorized by percentages is when things get interesting. The same way “What’s your sign?” is forever burned into our social psyche as the sexual pickup line of the 1960s, “What’s your percentage?” will be the dark chocolate lover’s mating call for the new century. Anything beneath 60% is sneered at and rebuffed in the dark circles of love. I’m comfortable with 65%, which translates on the dark scale as a Tempter. But The One, well, he can go all the way to 75% without getting that furry-tongue feeling from all that tannin. He’s a Master Seducer, a chocolate lover without equal in my book.

So infatuated is he with dark chocolate, and so determined to keep it from me, that he stashes his favorite bar—Lindt Excellence 70%—in the most unusual places: the bean shelf in the cupboard, behind the Tupperware, in his underwear drawer. And each and every time, I find it. You can’t hide food from Fatty Daddy.

Now that I’m forever addicted to the ecstasy of dark chocolate, don’t be surprised if in the future I stop in front of your house, open my car door, and try to lure your kid in with the promise of candy. There’s no shenanigans going on. I just want her soul, er, to save her soul.

She Said: My apathy toward dark chocolate began, as so many things do, as a kid.

I blame it on those little lopsided blobs that came tumbling helter skelter out of the crinkly plastic package and into the bowl of naked cookie dough or, more often, my mom’s waiting hand. Those nasty little semisweet morsels were invariably hazed with white—whether from the oppressively humid Iowa summers or some inexplicable dermatological condition known only to chocolate, I never knew.

What I did know was that beneath that iffy exterior lurked a taste that was, to me, vegetable, medicinal, entirely unpalatable. And let’s not even go near that not-so-nice waxy grittiness. Those darn chips tainted everything they touched: Cookies. Cakes. Brownies. Frosting. Me.

They just never seemed sweet. Okay, maybe a little sweet. But strangely, sourly sweet. Semisweet chocolate was, true to its name, certainly not wholly sweet. Or wholly satisfying.

Whereas semisweet left me with questions, milk chocolate was a declaration. A lyrical, poetic statement of fact. It smoothed the lumps and bumps of 100 Grand bars. It caressed the peanut-y, nougat-y, caramel-y luxuriousness of Snickers bars. And it constituted the very ears, nose, and whiskers of my beloved Easter bunnies. Yes, it was a child’s chocolate. Yes, it was soothing in a way that life wasn’t always. And yes, I snuggled into its milky lap every chance I got.

As soon as I was old enough to bake—maybe around eight—I started nonchalantly tossing a bag or two of milk chocolate chips in our shopping cart when Mom wasn’t looking. And, when that didn’t work, I simply did without. Life is bitter enough, I figured. Why invite more bittersweet to settle upon my soul? I figured when I was an adult, I’d indulge in all the milk chocolate I wanted. But the stored-up anticipation never quite came to pass. At least not early in my twenties, when I came back to milk chocolate seeking consolation for bad bosses, dumb boys, and all manner of other disappointment only to find that the chocolate of my childhood was much, much sweeter than I’d recalled. I don’t mean those insipid gift boxes of cheap chocolates with cloying fillings that only debase the meaning of the word chocolate. (David, you disappoint me.) I mean milk chocolate straight up, at its simplest, unsullied by extraneous tastes.

I did try dark chocolate again. Yet it was still too…dark. And uppity, given its array of origins and types and percentages that people bandy about like so many badges of honor. (Yes, I’m talking about you, Fatty Daddy.) I can discern those fruity, peppery, espresso-y, ad nauseum notes just as well as the next pompous foodist, thank you very much. I just don’t go for them—the notes or the pompous foodists. So I did without. Again. And when good-natured folks offered me chocolate, I simply shrugged and said I’d lost my taste for it. And I thought I had.

As with David and his endlessly patient and classy The One, my salvation was my true love. When E came along, he exuded a sort of unabashed enthusiasm for boyishness. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when I learned of his fondness for milk chocolate. I’m ashamed to admit that I sort of quietly smirked at this at the beginning, despite knowing he can discern practically imperceptible nuances between barrel-aged bourbons or dry-aged steaks. It wasn’t any milk chocolate that’d caught his fancy. Just one: Green & Black’s Organic Milk Chocolate. Almost every night he’d sheepishly slink off the couch to his stash of chocolate and bring it back and offer me some, and each time I’d smile and shake my head. But after witnessing his bliss at noshing on this pale brown chocolate over and over, I surprised both of us one night and broke off a small chunk of the bar. I stared at it. I sniffed at it. I cautiously nibbled at it. And then I broke off another chunk. And another. And another.

Twelve or so years later, he and I are still fiends for milk chocolate. That milk chocolate. No other. Except now most nights when he gets up from the couch and heads to the stash in the kitchen, I’m not certain whether the sheepishness is from needing his fix or knowing he needs to share it. Not that it matters. Milk chocolate has a tendency to fix all manner of things.

Comments
Comments
  1. Ling Teo says:

    I’m on the Dark Side with you, David. All the way to 99%… that’s where it’s truly mind-bending!

    • David Leite says:

      Ling, I knew you would never abandon me. Not in this time of crisis when the Milk Chocolate Marauders are everywhere.

  2. Mike says:

    Dark.

    Belgian.

    Wash, lather, repeat.

    • David Leite says:

      Mike, you’re my kind of guy.

      • Mike says:

        My mother-in-law was Belgian and would smuggle back Belgian chocolates filled with Remy Martin, Hennessy, Cointreau, and other high-end liqueurs.
        That was my introduction to chocolate.

  3. Amanda says:

    Ah, the eternal rift between the light side and the dark side. Like most kids, I grew up eating the sweet milk chocolate – loving it, but finding it left me with a fatty coating in my mouth and a slightly hollow feeling as though there should be more to the experience (and life, really).
    The sweet, dark chocolate available in the stores offered a hint of potential, but it was still far too sweet and didn’t go anywhere near to fulfilling its promise.

    My full chocolate epiphany came much later in life with an exposure to an imported dark chocolate that didn’t fill my mouth with the cloying sweetness of sugar. I knew then that I had found my hearts desire and embarked on my voyage of discovery as I worked my way up the percentages.

    Now I prefer not to eat or cook with anything less than 70%, and can be very happy with 85% at the end of a good meal.
    Fortunately my kids fail to find this at all attractive, so my stash is (relatively) safe.

    • David Leite says:

      Amanda, ah, I see you were raised, or raised yourself, properly–following the correct path from that sweet stuff (which is really called compound chocolate, hence the coating in your mouth) to true chocolate-hood.

      Renee, are you noticing a trend here….?

  4. Susan says:

    I’m bi-chocolate. I discovered this when I attempted my first chocolate pie many years ago. The recipe made a silky smooth, deep dark chocolate filling that meets my candy bar standard, but not the custard standard set by, of all places, the Hot Shoppes Cafeteria, (a DC metro area restaurant chain, now closed) chocolate pie that I loved. Or the Jello cook’n serve pudding that I grew up on. Sad, right? I’m still hunting for recipes for both that are clearly chocolaty in flavor but with that creamy smoothness of a milk chocolate gone custardy soft. Otherwise, I like a dark chocolate with a bitter twang by the bar, but it depends on the brand. I don’t like cherry or fruity notes in chocolate. I like Lindt Intense 70% to eat and I’ve made cake frosting, fudge and chocolate sauce with their 85% and 90%. Those Lindt Intense Dark bars work really well when cooked.

    • David Leite says:

      Susan, hmmm. Bi-chocolate. You know there are groups that can cure you of that! At least dark chocolate holds an important place in your eating and cooking life. So I havent lost your soul yet.

  5. sarah says:

    You must try Eclat chocolate! Christopher Curtin would appreciate your love for chocolate as much as you will appreciate his true talent as a Master Chocolatier! Treat yourself…indulge. Let him know who you are and he might just surprise you with something simply mind blowing!

  6. Allison Parker says:

    I confess to the Dark Side journey when it comes to eating pure chocolate. I simply cannot bite a solid hunk of milk chocolate. When it comes to cookies, though, I’ve recently been partial to milk chocolate chips. In cakes, only dark. For the occasional nostalgic candy fix: the original milk chocolate cover on a Kit-Kat (no KK dark for me). Some things should stay the same. So, you see, I’m also “bi-chocolate” (love the term, Susan).

    I just thank all the gods in the universe that the unholy, derivative words “white chocolate” (which it should be illegal to sell next to real chocolate, milk or dark) did not appear anywhere here. I would probably have had to quit my job. If there is a National White Chocolate Day, I do not want to know. And don’t get me started on how scarred I will forever be from the year that I unwrapped my Easter bunny and it was… white. Ugh.

  7. I love the term too Susan…it certainly describes my tastes. In thinking about my own preferences, I now realize I prefer dark chocolate ‘in’ things. Pie fillings, chip for cookies, sauces…that’s where I always seem to go dark.

    But a candy bar…give me milk or give me…well, not death, thanks but a lighter bar for sure!

    A friend just sent me a box of chocolate bars from Switzerland…both light and dark varieties. I have to say if we could pick any of this assortment up at our local store, there might be more milk chocolate love. All amazing, none white Allison and yes…I still prefer Switzerland’s milk varieties too!

    • David Leite says:

      Another bi-chocolate! You people are everywhere. The next thing you know you’ll want to marry and adopt children and live in our neighborhoods. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

  8. NS says:

    Could you be more pretentious or condescending? Milk chocolate is “lesser” or “childish”? Do you drink your coffee black as well or are you willing to taint that experience with milk, a purist’s blasphemy?

    The distinction needs to be made between Hersheys/Nestle/mass market commercial brands versus the real deal (Green and Black’s and the like) with an explanation about fillers NOT the authors’ and commenters’ one-upping of their sophistication and nuanced tastes than allow them to exclusively enjoy one chocolate. Furthermore, there should be an appreciation for how different chocolates shine in different contexts (brownies versus cookies; with nuts/salt/fruit or in fondue)–Evidence of being true chocolate lovers, not merely self-promoting of your own foodie qualifications.

    • David Leite says:

      NS, everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion and the expression of it. (And sorry you can’t see both Renee’s and my chocolate-covered tongues firmly planted in our cheeks.)

  9. Carol Anne says:

    Guys, I have just three words. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk.

    I understand that dark chocolate is more sophisticated, more complex, more, well, everything… but give me a good old bar of Dairy Milk any day of the week.

  10. Beth says:

    I’m quite sure that Hershey’s Special Dark Miniatures are single-handedly responsible for convincing swarms of children who would someday become adults that dark chocolate is disgusting. And the funny thing is, Special Dark is nothing special. It’s the halfway house of chocolate, not quite milk, not quite dark. No big whoop either way.

    Happily, I broke free of the Special Dark curse and today am an eager enjoyer of 72% dark chocolate. Sometimes I venture into the 80s, but I have yet to attempt a 90. That just seems too extreme.

    That said, if the only chocolate in my vicinity is a Hershey’s Kiss and I’m really jonesing, I’ll eat it. But I must say that Cadbury milk chocolate with roasted almonds is a tasty treat. It barely registers as chocolate, but is definitely registers as creamy and sweet.

    • Valerie Shaner says:

      I was the weird kid (as early as age 6) that would eat the Special Dark Hershey’s miniatures. While the other kids scrambled for the Mr. Goodbars, I would hang back and wait for them to fight over their favorites which would invariably leave a bowl full of the darker stuff just for me. This was the first sign that I would have a dark chocolate-addictive personality. (Well, that and the fact that I could eat a whole bag of semi-sweet morsels myself.)

      I went down the dark-chocolate road early, discovering whatever dark delights I could find in Canton, Ohio, in the 1970’s. Thankfully, we had a couple of local chocolatiers that had good quality dark chocolate creations. Now with the help of Target and World Market, I can find the intensely dark “good stuff”. And, thankfully, the hubby and I are chocolate compatible both in darkness and quantity. Yes, my relationship is definitely co-dependent!

      • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

        Valerie, I’m truly happy for you that you have access to all that makes your soul sing, both in terms of chocolate and a fulfilling—albeit co-dependent—relationship. I wish I knew you as a kid, I would have loved to have dumped all my Special Darks in your stash of Halloween candy! Happy chocolate-ing…

  11. David Leite says:

    Oh, and Renee, those gift boxes were hardly insipid, unless you consider Teuscher or Recchiuti Confections insipid?

  12. steve sando says:

    I’d be fine if I never ate chocolate again. It’s fine but I don’t crave it. To eat it straight, I much prefer the milk variety. I know this isn’t the cool answer but I’m such a rebel, sometimes.

    If you’re a dark chocolate fan, you should try Mexican hot chocolate with water instead of milk. I can’t stand it but I bet you’d like it.

  13. Rick Casner says:

    Should I be reading something sinister into the apparent anonymity of the “She Said” part of this piece? True there are hints here and they’re of R’s hand, but I wonder if maybe she just doesn’t want her name associated with this position. Maybe, secretly, she only longs for dark chocolate but was forced to write, chained, and threatened.

  14. Larry Gober says:

    I guess I am Bi-Chocolate. I am planning on attending the Chocolate Conference in Dallas in August. The DFW is where I started loving the handmade chocolates of Patric Chocolate from Columbia, MO and Askinoise Chocolate from Spingfield, MO as well as such European brands as Amedei (nectar,thy name is porcelana), Domori, and Amano. A really well made milk chocolate is not made by Mars. KitKats are better with a milk chocolate coating. White is for people who do not like chocolate. The world is a better place because of chocolate nakers.

    • David Leite says:

      “The world is a better place because of chocolate makers.” A truer word has never been spoken.

  15. E. Nassar says:

    Just like those few who I meet that do not like French Fries, I cannot understand how any one would prefer milk chcoolate over the true food of the gods, Dark Dark Chocolate. Don’t even get me started on white “chocolate”…

  16. Donna Rose says:

    One evening years ago, my son traveled through his first right of passage toward dark chocolate-hood when MFK Fisher asked him to retrieve a bar from her lingerie drawer. We all sat on her darkened balcony watching owls dip across the open fields savoring bits of ambrosia. Such a rich memory.

  17. Karen says:

    Excuse Me, but I have to interject here! Fatty Daddy, puleez! All I can say is this: Do not argue with someone who hails from … Chocolate City! Oh yes. We down here have learned to just roll with it – chocolate beer, chocolate pancakes, chocolate toothpaste. And then there is this: Chocolate City Ice Cream from The New Orleans Ice Cream Company. You have to try it to believe it. And yes, it is chocolate ice cream with chips made from the unmentionable chocolate (that’s for you Allison!) Not only is it great, but it is politically incorrect.
    Love and kisses (of the chocolate kind, naturally!)
    K

  18. El says:

    This is a great article. I’m definitely a dark chocolate fan but if the milk is of superior quality (e.g. Pralus Melissa), I’m game.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      A kindred soul, El. Yes, it is all about quality. None of that sugary stuff.

  19. Sofia says:

    I am with you on this one, David. Chocolate has to be AT the VERY LEAST 70%. I am a chocolate lover as long as it is bitter, the type that leaves your mouth with that strong bitter taste that lasts for a while as a good espresso coffee.

  20. Judy says:

    Given the choice in a situation I would always want the very best but in a pinch, I would even eat compound. Better than none at all.

    Chocolate. Oh, how much I love thee. My mother always said I’d outgrow my love of for you when I grew up but it hasn’t happened yet.

  21. Amy says:

    The day after My One and I met he sent me a box of chocolates. All dark, that was when I knew it was fate. No mere milk chocolate, but the richest of dark entwined with caramel. A match made in heaven (or Valrhona).

  22. Ellen says:

    David, I’m with you. The darker the better. My percentage: generally 70% but sometimes, and I cannot discern the pattern, only 85% will do. Lindt is certainly wonderful, and when I can trust myself there will be bar of Lindt with Chili stashed where only I can find it (not that my Other Half would ever even consider trying it). When I have made dulce de leche, I smear it (also a little sour and a little bitter) between slabs of 85%, add a sprinkle of salt and then I have what I will insist on for my last meal. I have found in my Other Half a doppelganger, a lover of all foods white and soft, whereas I am a dark-and-crunchy person. He gets all the flan, I get all the chocolate-chocolate-chip everything. It works.

    Milk chocolate is for wimps. And white? As we all know, it’s not even chocolate. (Imagine my withering sneer about now.)

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Woah, them there’s fighting words, Ellen. I am all for each having their way with chocolate, and I could not agree with you more when it comes to white confection. But name-calling? Please. It doesn’t become you. Or me. Or any of us. Let’s be gentle here.

      • Ellen says:

        Sorry, Renee, and everyone else I insulted. I do, however, sneer at milk chocolate. Also, I do kind of like Hershey’s Special Dark (or whatever those little rectangles are called); they have a nice snap to them. Or is it Nestle’s Special Dark? There is so much really good dark chocolate out there now, which is wonderful.

        • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

          Your instinct was right, Ellen. It is Hershey’s Special Dark. It’s sour smack is ingrained in my mind forever, tainting all memories of Halloweens past…

  23. Penny Wolf says:

    This is like asking an artist what is their favorite color. In my world there is a place and time for all, including the controversial white. What a dreamy vision of all three swirling together but not quite mixed.

  24. Susan says:

    Thanks for some laughter and well-written pieces on the merits of the best food group!

  25. An Nguyen says:

    Ahem. I reckon I should chime in here and declare myself a-chocolate, as oppose to all the bi-chocolates out there. That’s right, I like neither milk nor dark chocolate. As a matter of fact, I don’t like any chocolate at all. I’d rather have a slice of lemon tart over any kind of chocolate dessert any day. Maybe I was born with a sucky palate, but to me, chocolate is always either cloyingly sweet or bitter and sour, not to mention the ever-present chalkiness.

    • Amanda says:

      I’m a little shocked by this comment!!
      Quite clearly this person has not ever had proper chocolate – chalky!!!! My god, what have they been feeding you?
      Someone needs to take you in hand and lead you out of the darkness (or back into it, as the case may be).

  26. K Moore says:

    If you like that Green and Black’s milk chocolate, you simply must give the Theo 45% Creamy Milk bar a shot. Most of those sickly-sweet milks are in the range of 15%. The Theo one is significantly darker, but it’s still a silky milk. If you ever feel like branching out, you can get them at any Whole Food in NYC.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      K, you are my favorite person in the world right now! Many thanks. That’s going to be my first stop tomorrow morning at Union Square before I indulge in all the greenmarket goodness…

  27. Cassandra says:

    In my last year of university I went to Europe for a course in theatre and came home with a new appreciation for beer, a love of wine, and a large sample bag of chocolate from a candy factory in Berlin. The bag of chocolate ended up sitting on my dresser until my little sister, a chocoholic, came home in a terrible mood. In an attempt to make her feel better, I offered her some chocolate. So we sat and talked and bonded over boys, school, life, and chocolate. The sample pack was made up of milk chocolate, 65%, 75%, and 80%. As the evening progressed we made our up the scale (and back down). It was a good time. It was how I discovered the different types of dark chocolate (before I had thought there wasn’t much of a difference between the two – silly me!!!). It was how I realized that I love dark chocolate. It was how I found out my sister has “childish” taste in chocolate – milk up to the 65% range. Hears to hoping that will change as she gets older. I guess that trip to Europe taught me to appreciate most of the finer things in life…lol.

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