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.