The Gleeful Gourmand: Chocolate To End All Chocolates

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Chocolate To End All Chocolates

There is chocolate, and then there is chocolate. The first chocolate is the stuff of your childhood memories: probably Hershey’s, or Nestle, swirled into your glass of milk. Maybe once in awhile you dabbled in Lindt truffles, or perhaps even Ghiradelli around the holidays. It was special chocolate, because the holidays are special. It was the kind of chocolate that most women talk about when they say they’re addicted to chocolate. Sub-standard, unoriginal, and dare I say it? Milk chocolate.

And then there is chocolate. There is chocolate out there that all the other chocolate companies wish they could produce. And that chocolate company’s name is Valrhona.

My mom and step-dad just came back from a wonderful 10-day trip to the south of France, and while they were there, they were able to take a tour of Valrhona’s show room. When we saw them this past Sunday, my mom gave me some cute lavender keepsakes from Provence (as well as some wonderful Herbes de Provence). And then, with a gleam in her eye, she handed me a big bar of Valrhona Dark Chocolate: Guanaja at 70% cacao.

I was beyond overjoyed, because I’ve never had Valrhona chocolate. But I know it’s one of the finest chocolates in the world. Here’s the scoop on the company: It was founded in 1922 by Albéric Guironnet, a patissier, and named Chocolaterie du Vivarais. He built it in Tain l’Hermitage, and eventually changed the name to Valrhona to suggest its location in the Rhone Valley. Today it has a standard of excellence that is unmatched. What makes it so exceptional is that it works with cocoa producers in every single stage of the process, from the planting and cultivating of the trees, right down to when the bar gets wrapped. They have a small army of people who have a complete mastery of the sensorial analysis process in tasting.

And believe me when I say, the taste is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced in chocolate. Here’s the description of the bar I received:

Named after the now-famous Caribbean island where Christopher Columbus landed in 1502, Guanaja offers a completely original blend of cocoas, with subtle Criollos, and powerfully fragrant Trinitarios and Forasteros. This Grand Cru has a high cocoa content and is surprisingly bitter, but the range is full of warm notes. The recipe, of course, remains a closely guarded secret.

I had to look up some of the words to understand what it meant, but doesn’t that just sound amazing? That’s some incredible chocolate wrapper copy right there. Here are the terms you’re probably scratching your head over (I know I was):

Criollos – A term used to describe the trees the best fine beans come from.
Forasteros – Ordinary Venezuelan cocoa trees producing a bitter, flat tasting cocoa.
Trinitarios – The rough term for trees that produce a mix of Criollos and Forasteros.

I have always loved dark chocolate, but I was disappointed on my first bite that it tasted like many other dark, bitter chocolates. And then the wave of warm notes came washing over me. It was like eating a full-bodied red wine. I could even detect some very subtle plum fruitiness in there. It’s a taste that sticks with you for a while.

Remember up above when I used the words “milk chocolate” like a bad word? I really have nothing against it, but it’s just average in my opinion. And then I tasted the little milk chocolate morsels my mom brought home from Valrhona. Once again, you think you know what to expect (milk chocolate is milk chocolate after all, right?), but then come all the different warm notes, turning it into something extraordinary.

I did a little searching and apparently you can find Valrhona sometimes in Whole Foods, and also in Trader Joe’s – both of which surprise me, because I’ve never seen it in there. But maybe I just wasn’t paying attention. I will now – our bar is sadly half gone already.


Shauna said...

Europeans take chocolate very seriously, and they know what they're doing. My mom toured a chocolate factory in Austria and I think it took about three hours, which included a whole lot of tasting. She brought back some really good stuff. I was not a fan of the lime and pepper chocolate she brought home once though. Blech. Have you ever been to For the Love of Chocolate in Cary Town? That's where all the good stuff is. We get all of our Christmas stocking candy there. :-)

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