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REPORT: Chocolate tasting June 14 19h00 Paris


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Okay here is the roundup from the chocolate tasting. First off I will tell you what we tried with the prices, origin and cocoa percentage.

3.80 € Michel Cluziel (Mangaro) (n/a)

3.60 € Jean-Paul Hevin (Sao Tome) (75%)

1.50 € Monoprix (Ecuador) (70%)

5 € Patrick Roger (Ecuador) n/a)

6 € Maison du Chocolat (Cuana) (74%)

6.50€ Pierre Herme (Madagascar) (75%)

4.26 € Chocolate Bonnat (Venezuela CHUAO) (75%)

5 € Patrick Roger (Madagascar) (n/a)

3 € Valrhona (Guanaja) (70%)

3 € Valrhona (Dark) (72%)

Second I will note that our tasting was a bit flawed in the sense that we didn't have the opportunity to compare single origin beans, given the variety of origins that each chocolate maker uses, it would have been difficult to do so.

Finally each person's tastes are completely subjective. Some prefer milk chocolate over dark chocolate and vice versa. Some preferred the presence of fruit, while others preferred the woody or nutty aspects. All that being said, there were some favorites across the board.

Maison du Chocolat got the most votes by our tasters. We all noted the texture was extremely smooth and tasted the most like a true dark chocolate with hints of cocoa nibs and a nice bitterness.

Chocolate Bonnat tied for second with 2 others; Patrick Roger (Ecuador) and the Pierre Herme. Bonnat had a sweet wood taste and a slight bitterness. Some noted the dried cherry and apple hints.

Patrick Roger (Ecuador) had a bergamot taste (earl grey) and slightly dry. Mild taste with a light finish.

Pierre Herme had a bright citrus taste with hints of lime and zest.

The others each had one vote except for the Michel Cluizel which received ZERO votes from the tasters.

Ptipois will have some photos from the event. Join us next time for Olive Oil. Details coming soon.

"When planning big social gatherings at our home, I wait until the last minute to tell my wife. I figure she is going to worry either way, so I let her worry for two days rather than two weeks."
-EW
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I will send pictures to Braden today.

About the origin/percentage question, I have to add that the criteria was to bring a dark chocolate within a certain range of cocoa percentage (70-80), which is different than choosing according to the origin. But it would be quite possible to organize a tasting based on origins. Most chocolatiers are very big on pure origins right now. (The chocolate I liked the best from that tasting was a pure origin Sao Tome from JP Hévin.) We may try that another time, when we've digested all that chocolate. :wink:

During an interview with Pascal Le Gac, from La Maison du Chocolat, two years ago, he told me that he did not believe in cocoa percentage, which was not meaningful to him. He said better have a good 65% than a mediocre 80%. What was important to him was the origin, and above all the right handling and roasting of the beans and a proper conching (LMDC does the longest conching of the whole world of French chocolate). It's true that you taste chocolate differently once you start focusing on the origins.

Edited by Ptipois (log)
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How true! I could distinguish the chocolates from Madagascar given their very vibrant and fruity flavors. And probably because they were the ones I preferred. It would be interesting to do origin based tasting, but I too need time to recover from chocolate overload.

Something that Ptipois mentioned, which I found very interesting, is that most chocolatiers here are melters, as opposed to true makers of chocolate. Most of whom use Valrhona. So I am guessing if we did a origin based tasting, many would taste similar because they would be Valrhona's chocolate! Maybe for an origin tasting, we could use only true chocolate makers' products (such as Maison du Chocolat). But again, after some time to digest!

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To be more exact: Valrhona now takes up most of the market for couverture (the primal matter for chocolate and choc. pastry), so many chocolatiers use their products and so do, also, most pastry chefs in 2- and 3-Michelin star restaurants. Which explains why much trendy chocolate and most "haute" chocolate desserts all taste pretty much the same.

However, chocolatiers like Jean-Paul Hévin, Michel Cluizel, La Marquise de Sévigné, Pralus (who also makes couverture), Michel Chaudun still make chocolate from the beans. Which allows Hévin, for instance, to add the precise amount of sugar he wants, i.e. very little.

La Maison du Chocolat buys couverture from Valrhona, but the couverture is made according to an exclusive recipe of La Maison du Chocolat.

Pierre Hermé uses Valrhona and then mixes and flavors it. I suppose that is also what trendy pâtissiers like Sébastien Gaudard do.

I'll add that Valrhona is certainly not the only source for pure origins; names like "Jivara", "Caraque", "Manjari" do not necessarily indicate pure origin, they can be a mix of different beans (I have to check on that). On the other hand, a pure-origin chocolate will bear a clear statement on the package.

Pure origins are a style, mixes are the more traditional way with chocolate. Pure origins can be very idiosyncratic and not necessarily the best solution for cooking and pastry. For that, mixes have always been the best choice, unless a distinctive taste is expected (for instance Alain Passard's carrots served with Valrhona Araguani chocolate — the dish just does not function with another chocolate).

Edited by Ptipois (log)
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  • 3 weeks later...

Better late than never, I have just put our pictures from the chocolate tasting on my Flickr account, in a separate set.

You may see them here.

Sorry there will not be that many pictures of the olive oil tasting, but there will be a few shortly, on a different set.

Any people displayed on these pictures who do not wish to appear (the set is for public viewing) should tell me and I will remove them.

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However, chocolatiers like Jean-Paul Hévin, Michel Cluizel, La Marquise de Sévigné, Pralus (who also makes couverture), Michel Chaudun still make chocolate from the beans. Which allows Hévin, for instance, to add the precise amount of sugar he wants, i.e. very little.

I didn't realize that M. Hévin and M. Chaudun were making chocolate themselves. Is that what they've said? If so, has anyone seen them actually doing it?

It's quite a production if they are, with all the shipping of bean, equipment, space and storage necessary to do so.

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However, chocolatiers like Jean-Paul Hévin, Michel Cluizel, La Marquise de Sévigné, Pralus (who also makes couverture), Michel Chaudun still make chocolate from the beans. Which allows Hévin, for instance, to add the precise amount of sugar he wants, i.e. very little.

I didn't realize that M. Hévin and M. Chaudun were making chocolate themselves. Is that what they've said? If so, has anyone seen them actually doing it?

It's quite a production if they are, with all the shipping of bean, equipment, space and storage necessary to do so.

I may be wrong on this, but they do sell their original mixes, compared for instance to Pierre Hermé who uses ready-made Valrhona.

Probably they don't mix and grind, conch, etc., the beans themselves but have the chocolate made according to their own specifications (as does La Maison du Chocolat).

Edited by Ptipois (log)
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It seems like you Parisians are enjoying some great gatherings together.

My husband and I brought back a bunch of good chocolate from our trip to Paris this Spring and we would sit up after the kids had gone to bed and taste one after the other. By far our favorite was a Pralus we picked at random - it was from Madagascar. It had so much depth, with a strong acid finish. It really changed our way of looking at chocolate. Wondering why you did not include it in your tasting?

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By far our favorite was a Pralus we picked at random  - it was from Madagascar... Wondering why you did not include it in your tasting?

Hey Shaya,

As far as which chocolates we picked, it was all dependent on who came and what each person decided to bring. There are many more we wanted to try. We also want to do an origin tasting sometime in the near future, which will be a lot of fun.

David, how do you rank French chocolate to American chocolate? How would you compare your recent tasting at Theo to Maison du Chocolat?

"When planning big social gatherings at our home, I wait until the last minute to tell my wife. I figure she is going to worry either way, so I let her worry for two days rather than two weeks."
-EW
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David, how do you rank French chocolate to American chocolate? How would you compare your recent tasting at Theo to Maison du Chocolat?

To my taste, I find both 'styles' of chocolate different.

Although it's hard to make sweeping generalizations (even though I do it all the time...) the French seem to prefer a subtler, softer, smoother tasting kind of chocolate, like Valhrona, although Lindt certainly seems popular as well in France. American chocolate (and I'm referring to the smaller, artisanal producers) is more brusque and roasty-tasting. For baking in France, I tend to use Barry-Callebaut, which is a good balance of both.

In my experience, the French (and European) friends I've given bars of some of the new American chocolates to don't like them much. That said, I did give some Theo to Jean-Charles Rochoux who really liked it a lot, and my Parisian partner did too. I lugged back a huge amount of Theo's origin bars that I can't wait to try...although I'm working on the filled chocolates first in anticipation of the arrival of the warmer weather finally showing up. (!)

BTW: La Maison du Chocolat is owned by the same company that owns Valhrona which does make special blends for La Maison. I don't know about M. Hévin; most chocolatiers are pretty cagey when asked which couverture they use. (A past experience in his shop on La Motte-Picquet wasn't exactly positive...)

For another tasting, it would be perhaps interesting to taste various chocolate bars from French chocolate-makers, not necessarily the bars fashioned by chocolatiers who either buy chocolate and pour it into their molds or mix various chocolates. Pralus, Bernachon, Bonnat, Cluizel, Weiss, and Ducloux would be interesting to compare.

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BTW: La Maison du Chocolat is owned by the same company that owns Valhrona which does make special blends for La Maison. I don't know about M. Hévin; most chocolatiers are pretty cagey when asked which couverture they use. (A past experience in his shop on La Motte-Picquet wasn't exactly positive...)

For another tasting, it would be perhaps interesting to taste various chocolate bars from French chocolate-makers, not necessarily the bars fashioned by chocolatiers who either buy chocolate and pour it into their molds or mix various chocolates. Pralus, Bernachon, Bonnat, Cluizel, Weiss, and Ducloux would be interesting to compare.

When I got the info from Pascal Le Gac (who was still working for La Maison du Chocolat; now he has been replaced by Gilles Marchal), he did not mention that they were owned by the same company that owned Valrhona. He did tell me, though, that their basic chocolates were made by Valrhona according to La Maison's exclusive recipes and instructions, under his strict control regarding beans, roasting, conching, etc.

I have no details concerning Hévin but I do know he controls the fabrication, selects the origins, chooses the precise amount of sugar and butter, etc., so if that is not, strictly speaking, making the chocolate, it is pretty close. At any rate he doesn't just pour it into moulds. At the tasting, his Sao Tome chocolate was my N°1 favorite because it was so personal, very atypical as dark chocolates go. It didn't fall into any model or category, it was really one of a kind. I could describe it as the most un-valrhona-like chocolate I had tasted for years. If Hévin doesn't make it from the beans, it's even more of a feat.

The tasting was based on chocolates that were readily available to the consumer. So there could be chocolates made from scratch by the chocolatiers or only conditioned by them; there seldom is any way the buyer can make the difference. Also, if for instance Bonnat can be found in gourmet food stores and in some pâtisseries, it is not so easy to find Pralus or Ducloux.

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Ptipois, we found a good selection of Pralus at Galeries Lafayette.

Thanks, but finding it at Lafayette Gourmet doesn't mean it is readily available (it is not at La Grande Epicerie for instance). Pralus has surfaced somehow in recent years but it is still one of the more confidential brands.

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I was at GL today buying dried mushrooms and snagged a bar of Pralus Madagascar 75%. The first thing I noticed when opening it was that it had bloomed (white streaks like tiny river beds) and also that the bottom had 8 or so good size bubbles. The bloom and the bubble doesn't bother me as I am mostly concerned with is taste. As far as the taste was concerned, I will use a wine phrase here in that it had a "great sense of place". Lots of forward tropical fruit and papaya throughout which is typical for cocoa beans from Nosy Be and Madagascar in general.

For me, it was very smooth and creamy. When the tropical fruit did subside in my mouth it left a milk chocolate taste behind. While I do like Madagascar cocoa for the uniqueness, my preference leans towards the heartier nutty taste of the nibs and I prefer a chocolate that offers that. Of the chocolate that I have tasted, I like the Maison du Chocolat because of that presence of nib. At the same time I like the Guana and Ivory Coast by Theo that both lean towards that nib taste.

I guess in the end it is all about preference. I am looking forward to another tasting of chocolate.

p.s. It was interesting to see that of all the chocolate that GL carried, the only one that was completely sold out was the Bonnat Chuao.

"When planning big social gatherings at our home, I wait until the last minute to tell my wife. I figure she is going to worry either way, so I let her worry for two days rather than two weeks."
-EW
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Chuao chocolate from Venezuela has earned a big reputation because of its rarity. The Chuao bar by Bonnat is really excellent and has many things one could expect from dark chocolate, so it is understandably successful. However, when comparing with other chocolates, I don't think it has such a great personality and I suspect there is some hype involved in its fast selling-out.

I had the same impression last Winter when tasting a bar of Pierre Marcolini's porcelana (made from some of the rarest beans in the world). I was very underwhelmed. The only chocolates that really knocked me off my chair recently were neither the rarest nor the most expensive: Sao Tomé PO by Hévin and most of what Maison du Chocolat and Mr. Chaudun make.

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