Holiday Chocolates

Holiday Chocolates
Holiday Chocolates -beats cookies any day!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Jean-Charles Rochoux: Venezuela 72%

The Jean-Charles Rochoux shop on rue d'Assas in Paris is tiny, with dark wood paneling and a certain masculine aura about it. This shop is well known in Paris as the go-to shop for gifts for men. There are some really amazing chocolate sculptures in this shop, giving it a museum-like quality, but what I remember the most was the Habano and Bourbon ganaches. The popular gift for the new father is a box of these chocolates. The Habano is a cigar-flavored ganache, and the other decorated with a little red dab of wax like a sealed liquor bottle, is the Bourbon flavored. On the chocolate tour I was the only one brave enough to try the Habano. How can you pass such an opportunity??
The French do ganache in a very different manner than Americans. Our flavored ganaches are bursting with the intended flavor, rendering the quality of the chocolate irrelevant at best. The French prefer to maintain the quality of their chocolate by flavoring ganaches in the subtlest way, forcing the consumer to slow down and pay attention or you might miss the experience! Often, flavors are chosen by their compatibility with the chocolate. In other words, if the chocolate has a natural bright and fruity characteristic, that will be the one chosen for fruit-flavored ganaches. If it is a dark, earthy or nutty character then that will go with the coffee, caramel or nut-flavored ganaches. Makes perfect sense to me, but it then becomes painfully clear that many chocolatiers outside of France pick a chocolate and use it for all their ganaches, since the burst of flavor is going to overpower the chocolate anyway!
The Habano had a fresh cigar-like flavor to it, like the smell of a very fine cigar before it is lit. If you didn't tell people that was what they were going to experience, they might miss it unless they are paying close attention! The Bourbon was a little more up front, but in a pleasant way, not at all a boozy presentation. No risk of being pulled over for a DUI with a box of these in your car. I thought they would make a really nice after-dinner chocolate. In fact, I though they would both be great after dinner (but then again isn't all chocolate great after dinner?).
I did not buy filled chocolates in Paris for fear of not getting them home in tact, so I bought a bar, or tablette, at Jean-Charles Rochoux. I bought the Venezuela 72% which comes in a silver package with the texture of crocodile skin. Inside, the bar is covered with one piece of cellophane, over the top. This looks spectacular, but unfortunately does not keep the chocolate very fresh. Had I known there was so little packaging, I would have consumed this bar first, maybe even while I was still in Paris. Unfortunately, I saved it for one of the last and it sort of has that "kept in storage too long" flavor about it. Underneath the initial staleness though, is a well-balanced, sweet dark chocolate. It has a very nice mouth-feel (listen to me! I mean, really! What have I become??), and a dark, almost earthy taste, as opposed to the brighter, fruitier dark chocolates. It leaves a lightly bitter, but not at all unpleasant after-taste.
If you travel to Paris, this shop is not to be missed! Located at 16, rue d'Assas in the 6th arrondissement, the sculptures alone are worth the visit. Try a Habano so as not to appear a "light-weight", and buy a tablette - just eat it right away. Visit his arty website here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Richart-Santodino 82% Dominican Republic

Richart is a shop I just happened to run into while strolling down the Blvd. St. Germain last spring. A lovely, airy shop on a lovely, airy boulevard. I picked up a few "tablettes", and this was one of them (the other I sadly gave away - what was I thinking??). This Santodino bar is a single-origin chocolate from the Dominican Republic. It is smooth and dark with a touch of sprightliness to it. It is a super good pick-me-up on a hot afternoon! If you are a lover of very dark chocolate, this one is for you. While I did not sample the 70% (the one I gave away), I feel confident that it too must be a lovely bar. This is very good quality chocolate and I would recommend this shop to anyone visiting Paris: it's easy to find and has an assortment of different chocolates to choose from. Strangely, it was not included on the chocolate tour, but the Spirits were obviously on my side by placing it right on my route one particular morning. I just love when that happens!
Richart prides itself on being among the first, if not the first, to create single-origin chocolates, a trend which has caught on with all the high-quality chocolate shops. This is a very good thing, as cacao beans used to come in large quantities from all over the place, and all mixed together, including some old and moldy ones! It was up to chocolate houses to figure out what to do with endless shipments of beans that varied so widely in quality. The best chocolate-makers figured it out, the not-so-good chocolate-makers just added more sugar and soybean oil! Yuck. Now, the trend in single-origins has lead to chocolate manufacturers having a great deal of control over the quality of beans as well as the fermenting and roasting process. Of course you pay for this extra quality-control feature, but the price is well worth it! Richart is definitely in the elite category of chocolate. Not only have they made fine chocolate available to us, they are actively encouraging us to learn how to taste chocolate and to compare not only different percentages but different origins. My bar came with a little insert that instructs how to taste and rate chocolate - no kidding! It has categories for you to fill out such as Taste and Flavors (salty, sweet, acidic, bitter); Aroma (balsamic, fruity, herbaceous, floral, spicy; Tactile sensation, or what we usually call "mouth feel" in English (smooth, silky, granulated).
For more information take a peek at their website (English version), here.