Chocolate and mushrooms. The combination doesn’t immediately ring true, like old-school blends of the elixir with mints, peanut butter or hot pepper. But lately, amid a whirlwind of experimentation in which pioneering chocolatiers are successfully marrying the polygamous partner with bacon and cheese, the earthy offerings of fungi are also proving to be a suitable match.
“I agree, it’s not obvious,” says Odile Chatelain of Toronto’s Odile Chocolat. The idea first came to her when she was developing new flavours for her Canadiana line of chocolate truffles, which includes infusions of ice wine, wild-rose syrup and raspberry vinegar. She makes a truffle with wild, black trumpets—characterized as robust and woodsy. It wasn’t easy, she recalls. “The flavour was too mild or too much. It took quite a few tries to get it right.”
Chatelain turns the dried mushrooms into powder and then incorporates the particles into a bittersweet ganache. Little ebony-coloured bits of chewy mushroom linger as the chocolate melts in the mouth. “People wonder, ‘Why mushroom?’ ” she says. “But when they taste it, they’re quite surprised to find that it works.”
Across town, XocoCava’s owner Chris McDonald has also zeroed in on the black trumpet. He has what he calls his periodic table of flavour combinations—chorizo and milk chocolate, anyone?—and clearly enjoys discovering brand new sensations.
But mushrooms, says McDonald, are limited. “The black trumpet is it,” he says. He grinds the dried fungi, and then mixes it into a dark-chocolate ganache, laced with a mushroomy essence. The result is a luxuriously rich treat with an unmistakably musky depth—something McDonald compares with “that same, earthy—almost soil-like—quality that you find in very, very old wines.”
When asked about this seemingly odd pairing, Soma chocolate maker David Castellan of Toronto is skeptical at first, but then recalls making a gelato with porcini mushrooms. “It certainly wasn’t my idea,” he says. But when he rehydrated the dried mushrooms in milk, he says “a really delicious chocolatey, malty flavour” emerged.
Aside from wine, chocolate attracts experimentation like no other food-related field. Castellan, who mixes rarities such as roasted quince into his concoctions, thinks the push for these extreme choco-experiences is part of something much greater: “Everyone is searching for that crazy flavour that will wow the world,” he says. McDonald sees it as part of the culinary innovation that has taken place in the last decade, where fusion has united sweet, sour and savoury on new frontiers. The rising number of artisans is also a factor, he says. “It’s part of the role of the artisan to push past those established boundaries.”
Chocolate is also said to be effective at masking the funky taste of magic mushrooms—making a psychedelic trip a yummy one, too. Online recipes, some of which include adding chocolate chips, come with warnings of psychotropic side effects. There’s a belief, apparently, that there’s something particularly potent in the chemistry.
So can chocolate be improved by adding any ingredient? Absolutely not, says McDonald. He once tried an anchovy truffle in Spain. “It was revolting,” he says. He also recalls a chocolate made with parmigiano-reggiano cheese. “It was really not very good. Let’s face it. You need to know what you’re doing.”
Of course, there is another kind of truffle: the tuber that belongs to the mushroom family. And it is possible, although uncommon, to find truffle-truffles. They’re something of a joke in Italy, says Castellan, who had one while on a trip to the northern territory of Piedmont where white truffles abound. “It was really disgusting,” he says. But McDonald can see the potential in black truffles. “It makes sense to me,” he says. “I didn’t think there was another one, but maybe that’s the next mushroom for making chocolate.”
Unlike the differences between, say, a Caramilk and a KitKat, the highs and lows that come with these experiments are as intense as the tastes. And there’s more room for error. Button mushrooms and milky caramels? Gross. But a wild earthy number paired with bitter, fermented, complex chocolate? Now that’s black magic.