I once thought that being a writer had to do with pens and paper, but as a food writer specializing in craft chocolate, I can tell you that the job loosely translates to sitting on the couch and eating bonbons all day. Of course, if I want to eat on the couch, I have to occasionally get up and walk into the other room, where my precious chocolate fridge lives, but since I reside in Brooklyn, where everyone’s apartment is about the size of a miniature-breed dog carrier, this doesn’t put too much of a cramp in my style. To understate the case, I come across a lot of chocolate, and most of it makes its way into my mouth.
In between bites of brown butter milk chocolate and dark chocolate–coated caramels, I’ve occasionally picked a wrapper off the floor and noticed that the designers behind the chocolate packaging design are trying to appeal to certain groups of people, namely either men or women. That’s not to say that women always like one thing and men another, or that some lines or fonts or colors are inherently masculine or feminine, but rather that in our culture we assign meaning to certain design elements, among other things.
Take, for example, Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate’s labels, which feature a pen-and-ink drawing of a ship being built and two tiny men in the corner, ostensibly with beards and tool belts. The crisp, black border accentuates the right angles of the package, as do both the monochromatic image and sans serif font choices.
Meanwhile Dick Taylor’s drinking chocolate packaging presents another pen-and-ink drawing, this time of a hardy, bearded sailor steering a ship in the rain while enjoying a hot beverage.
Both labels state clearly that it is by men, for men. (The first word in the company’s name, for goodness’ sake, is Dick!)
After polishing off a Dick Taylor single-origin Belize bar the other day, I rushed to my chocolate fridge to find its mate, a refined lady in the form of French Broad Chocolates’ gentle packaging (they say opposites attract). The baby-blue box always reminds me of a delicate Easter egg, and the gold paneling on the left side swirls into rounded patterns that recall Venetian wallpaper.
Similarly, the font is ornamental and as curvy as Boticelli’s Venus. Anybody who isn’t charmed into taking afternoon tea with this bar or offering it their seat on the bus must be immune to genteel glamour.
Now, I’m hardly the only person to have noticed these designs: I have history on my side. Before the 20th century, which Jane Dusselier in Kitchen Culture in America calls “the era of the dainty breast-shaped bonbon,” chocolate forms were always “rounded, bulging [and] curved portions,” with patented names like Queen. Starting in 1910, though, a new man came to town, a rectangular-shaped chocolate bar in “cubicle blocks” that sometimes looked like a “phallic beehive,” sporting epigrams like Chief of Them All in advertisements.
This dichotomous tradition lives all around us, even if we don’t notice it before we devour the candy. Just compare two of chocolatier Michael Recchiuti’s gift boxes. With his red wine–pairing collection—which I’d wager is targeted at women—he doesn’t leave anything to the imagination: Three of the truffles are round and voluptuous, with a white dot on the tip. Topless bars are less suggestive than this breast-shaped chocolate.
Meanwhile the whiskey-pairing collection—which is surely targeted at men—consists of nine practical, square chocolates with just a hint of decoration, as no-nonsense as Frank Sinatra’s two fingers of whiskey and a splash of water.
I’m picking on Recchiuti because his swoon-worthy chocolates are some of my favorites in the world, so much that I featured his recipe for burnt-caramel amaro truffles in my book. They’re round and rolled in cocoa powder, so I’m not sure what gender that makes them, but in any case they’re just as delightful for men as for women.
But however lascivious those wine boobs might seem, they’re nothing compared to the crown jewel in a chocolate collection from Lagusta’s Luscious, a set of six Furious Vulvas, which are precisely what they sound like: chocolate vulvas, with the bonus inclusions of pink peppercorns and Hawaiian pink sea salt. These put sex front and center, in the most anatomical sense of the word.
When I bought a set of these doozies, I spent some time photographing them to see if I could sneak them by social media’s obscenity police, and it worked a little too well: Everyone thought they were cocoa pods, a telling commentary on how women and chocolate have been linked in our minds for a long time. Meanwhile I started nibbling on one chocolate and then another as I made my way to the couch and settled in for a long day of work.