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Today’s Small Pleasure: Modicana Chili Chocolate

As I dip my toe into the pool of life post-surgery, I find that the thing I look forward to most each day is my little perambulation around the neighborhood. Each time I head in a different direction, and each time I’m capable of walking a little further without tiring. And after yesterday’s treat, I’ve decided to allow myself one small indulgence each time when I return home.

Today’s stroll took me to the post office, where thank god I only needed to use the stamp machine, since the line was nearly out the door. When I finished there I still felt quite energetic, and as it was lovely and sunny and even a little bit warm this afternoon I decided to take a side-trip to the Bedford Cheese Shop. I don’t like cheese,* but I love the Bedford Cheese Shop. The staff is amazingly knowledgeable (and friendly), and there’s a wit to the place that I find tremendously appealing. The tags on the cheese displays are a hoot, incongruous and sometimes unabashedly political—for example, on one of several types of pecorino, it says something like “There are as many pecorinos as there are assholes in the Bush administration.” But as much as I love reading the labels, I really go there for the non-cheese stuff. They’ve got a judiciously edited assortment of goodies for the food-obsessed, things like walnut oil from France and Niman Ranch bacon (which I’d never buy, being a formerly kosher chick and all, but I’ve eaten it in restaurants and it’s mighty fine indeed). Whoever’s running this place really knows what he’s doing.

Sitting demurely at the register was a small stack of intriguing, kraft paper-wrapped chocolate bars. Simple red twine attached a small hang tag: “Casa Don Puglisi Chocoslab: Chilli. Pure chocolate from Modica. Produced in Modica by means of an old cold working.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for rustic, subtle packaging (talk about your reverse psychology). This unobtrusive little fellow absolutely begged to be picked up, if only because the word “chocoslab” was so provocative. There were just three ingredients listed on the hang tag’s reverse: cocoa paste, cane sugar, and chili. Purity. Sexy.

Turning the bar over, I found an even more promising label:

It reminded me of an “antique” Sicilian chocolate I’d bought at Zingerman’s once, the likes of which I’d never seen anywhere else. Crumbly and crunchy with sugar crystals, I still think about that chocolate years later. Could this be a similar confection?

It wasn’t cheap—$5 for a 3.5 oz bar—but since I haven’t been out much lately I haven’t exactly been burning through cash. It was time for a splurge! I made my purchase and hurried home—well, as much as it’s possible for me to hurry these days. Currently I’m one of those slow-moving pedestrians New Yorkers like me generally hate.

When I got to my apartment, I opened the wrapper carefully, as one would a piece of fine china. Inside the kraft paper, which looked hand-folded, was a parchment paper lining, also hand-folded. And the bar itself: solid as a marble slab, and yet fragile as an ancient painting, freckled with a gossamer layer of reddish blooms. For a few moments, I simply admired its beauty and breathed in that heavenly aroma.

Eventually, of course, I had to taste it. With my trusty paring knife I cut off one corner, and it crumbled under my touch, as frail as a ruin. In seconds I’d created a small pile of rusty-brown rubble. I felt a bit like an archaeologist, disturbing a brick that’s been disintegrating from within for centuries. But since it was my intention to destroy my prize by eating it, I didn’t mind at all. I licked my finger to pick up a dose of chocolate dust, then put it in my mouth. Oh. My. It was goooood. The chocolate itself was bitter, with crunches of sugar for punctuation; the chili suggested heat rather than insisting upon it, then lingered. This had none of the creaminess we expect from chocolate in this country—it was brittle, it was delicate, it was ethereal.

It was beautiful.

The Cheese Shop had a cinnamon variety, too. Maybe on tomorrow’s walk I’ll retrace my steps…

*Well, that’s not 100% accurate. I’ll never, ever eat a piece of cheese plain, but cheese in other things can sometimes be pretty darn good. Like salty parmigiano reggiano in a salad, or fresh mozzarella on a crisp slice of pizza, or sharp cheddar in a not-too-goopy mac and cheese… You get the idea. Every rule has its exceptions.

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