Alas, I have come to the very bottom of my bag, the very end of my forray into French chocolate. Yet, I have finally arrived at the chocolatier to royalty. That would be Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Debauve & Gallais were the first to create chocolate for the royal court of France in the 1700's. Chocolate was a novelty, coming from the New World, and because of its rarity was really only available to aristocrats at that time. Debauve & Gallais were pharmacists primarily and as such easily got their hands on new materials, like chocolate. They were the first to create chocolate confections for the Queen, who required chocolate wafers to get her medicine down. These little wafers are still being created by Debauve & Gallais and can be purchased at any one of their shops, one of which is on Madison Avenue in New York. All of their chocolates are gorgeously packaged and frightfully expensive. I happened upon a Debauve & Gallais shop on my last day in Paris and purchased a little box of squares of all different percentages. I also bought a small 99% bar that I really liked. I didn't think anyone could do 99% as well as Michel Cuizel, but this was an extraordinary specimen that I managed to gobble up awfully fast. This surprised me as 99% is not exactly a gobble-up kind of bar. I believe this Debauve & Gallais 99% has more sugar in it than the Cuizel and I would recommend it to anyone venturing into that percentage category.
As for the 85%, it too is rather sweet and velvety smooth. In my little sample pack, there was 85% chocolat and 85% amer (bitter). I found it difficult to detect much difference between these two, but I did prefer the amer. It seemed a little richer to me, and I like my chocolate really dark. Unless you are really paying attention, though, you might not be able to tell the difference!
I saved the rest of my sampler squares for last and did a succession of tasting, from 45% milk chocolate up to 72%. There were two different 45% milks in there: one plain and the other with sesame seeds. The plain one was no great shakes, in my opinion. Certainly a good-quality milk chocolate but most likely not worth the price. The 45% with sesame seeds was divine! I don't think I have ever had sesame seeds in my chocolate and it trumps nuts! If you ever come across a bar with sesame seeds, get it!
The 60% dark starts out with a sweet note of vanilla. It is a traditional dark chocolate before dark chocolate got hijacked by all of us choco-snobs in the dangerously-high-percentages group. As such, it is too sweet for me and has too much vanilla. I love vanilla, just not in my chocolate. As such, I would rate this 60% as not worth your money, since you can buy comparable chocolate elsewhere for half the price.
Next up was the 72%. Now we're talking. A little darker. A little less vanilla, but still traces of it. Very smooth with excellent melt-in-your-mouth feel. This is the bar I would buy at one of their fancy shops to give as a gift or to just gobble up when no one is looking.
What I like most about Debauve & Gallais is their history as one of France's first chocolatiers and the chocolatier to Marie Antoinette. I love their fancy packaging, too and if you happen to run into one of their shops, you really must go in. However, there is so much really good chocolate out there that rivals, if not surpasses, the creations of Debauve & Gallais. Their prices are steep, and I think I would rather drop cold, hard cash on Amadei or Pierre Herme (I've GOT to get another one of those salt bars!). But I would definitely purchase a few more of those 99% bars and a few sample packs to give as gifts. Debauve & Gallais is definitely a gift-giving chocolate rather than an every-day bar. For a quick visual on their gorgeous presentation click here.
As a company, Debauve & Gallais prides itself enormously on their history, their fancy shop and their fancy packaging. I found the shop atmosphere in Paris rather cold and unfriendly, which really struck me as the other shops I visited were quite friendly and accommodating. Perhaps they know they have a lot of stiff competition these days! About their chocolate I can say this much: they truly do produce a smooth chocolate with excellent mouth feel, something some of the newer chocolatiers have not yet mastered. On the other hand, there seems to be a lot of sugar and vanilla going on. Chocolate that contains a lot of sugar and vanilla is often masking inferior beans. Chocolatiers who take pride in the sourcing and roasting of their beans rarely use much vanilla and take it easy on the sugar, hoping that you will experience the bean itself. I'm not saying that Debauve & Gallais use inferior beans....I''m just saying.