Valrhona Le Noir Extra Amer 85% & 71%
(and Valrhona Alpaco 66%)

Hunting up the dark at Trader Joe’s? You’ll notice TJ’s stocks enough dark chocolate to befuddle the wisest among us. I’ve stood in the chocolate section for long minutes on end, jonesing for my fix, finally grabbing something at random out of desperation.

After years of intense study I can finally advise you on this matter.

Let’s start at the top, where sits the Le Noir Extra Amer Valrhona bar. At 85% cocoa solids this is the highest percentage cocoa solids dark TJ’s carries and entirely suitable for the serious dark devotee.

These bars weigh in at 3.5oz (100gm), which is a common size for solid bars, but it pays to look closely — clever packaging can fool you. For example, the bright green TJ’s Swiss 72% — not bad stuff for a dollar less — looks bigger than the Valrhona, but they are exactly the same weight. So don’t grab the green thinking you’re getting a better deal. Grab it because it’s what you want. Or because you only have two dollars.

While I’m not suggesting you evaluate your dark by pennies per ounce, I advise you to know what you’re paying for. When it comes to chocolate, price is not always a measure of quality.

Valrhona is fine stuff. Both the 71% and the 85% are intense and full of dark chocolaty goodness. The 71% is also a little softer, sweeter and, some might say, friendlier. But we don’t eat chocolate for the friendly, do we?

Don’t be scared by the 85% — it’s really quite good. I take a bite and feel that all is right with the world. And at 85% it has more fat and less sugar, making it low-carb compatible.

Nothing wrong with the 71% — it’s good quality, smooth, smoky and with a bit of bite. But to me the 71% says “I’m bittersweet chocolate!” while the 85% raises its eyebrow and says nothing. I stock the 71% for my more delicate friends.

TJ’s charges the same for both, about $3 per bar, so do what you need to do.

If, while browsing nobby chocolate shops like Chocolopolis you come across the Valrhona 66% Alpaco, you’ll notice it appears much bigger than the Le Noir bars, but look again: it’s only 2.46oz (70gm) — thirty percent smaller — and costs over $6/bar.

What’s with that? Is it better chocolate? Special? The label reads “Floral & Oaky”, which is I can only assume a serving suggestion. Not only didn’t I taste anything floral or oaky, I found it a bit dull by my dark standards. Go with the darker (and less expensive) Valrhona Le Noir.

The Le Noir bars are excellent conveyors of simple messages such as “I think you’re tons of cool” and “I was foolish and beg your forgiveness.” Instead of a lengthy explanation, offer one of these. Good dark chocolate speaks for itself.

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