This weekend I was lucky enough to be offered a “Chocolate addict workshop”(Thanks to my lovely wife!) in Nantes, run by the great people at “Epicure vous Salue” (https://www.facebook.com/epicurevoussalue/?fref=ts run by Marion, a trained diététicien ) and “Le Gâteau sous la Cerise” (http://www.legateausouslacerise.com/) managed by Floriane Millet).
I love chocolate, but really know very little about it, and even less about cooking or using it proprerly. Ok, I’d read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl when a child, and loved it, and probably had a more or less permanent chocolate moustache on my lips/face/ and chocolate smeared liberally over my hands/clothes/ when a child/adult/today.
So I entered the shop and said hello to the other participants, (Liz, Thomas and Mary ( who runs a tea shop https://www.facebook.com/Marys-Tea-Room-904536599588888/?fref=ts). We started with a great cup of tea from the store, and settled down on our chairs to listen to the story of chocolate.
For me as a child Chocolate was just “stuff” I gobbled down (what a PIG) and as a child in the UK the big brands were Cadbury’s or Mars, Rowntree, Nestlé , Milka or even a rare bar of Toblerone. Later, as an adult , I would graze the aisles of the supermarket and buy a bar, but the best was probably Green and Black or Lindt.
Then one day we went to a big store in Lakeside, Essex and I found a “real ” chocolate shop, sadly closed now, but the owner had a whole range of bars of various % chocolates.
But I hadn’t really “understood” the story until yesterday’s fantastic workshop.
Marion and Floriane walked us through the story of the different varieties of plant (there are 3!) and why chocolate is so expensive (basically the pod is a fruit from a flower with
no perfume, that lasts 48 hrs, and so is rarely pollinated , and when it is very few go onto produce fruits ). A tree produces 6000 flowers, but only 20 pods!. Once the pod has been harvested (you plant a tree and wait 4 years!) then you have to do loads of things to it to get chocolate.
So the pod is very careflully harvested, so as not to damage the tree, and then opened. The inside is spread out and left to ferment, much ike a wine or beer or bread, to develop the flavours, and then dried , either in the sun (best) or an oven (cheapest) to prevent fungal infection and rotting. Then the beans are cleaned, and processed,then roasted and the shell is removed and the inside (a nib) is ground into a paste. There are two components to the paste, solids and butter. At the workshop we got to taste the bean in all its forms, throughout the process, and you’d never believe chocolate came from such a bitter tasting bean.
The chocolate is blended (or not if its a pure single plantation ) and different % of cocoa paste are added and sugar. Then its conched, tempered and finally poured into moulds.
So each step needs skill and hence really good chocolate could be compared to a fine wine, or tea.
We nibbled our way through the three types of chocolate, white, milk and dark chocolate, testing the varous countries of origin, % of choclate or cocoa butter, the notes of red fruits or nuts , the acidity or bitterness, and at the end I felt that I’d just scratched the surface of a passion. We climbed up the choco hill from 30% all the way to 100% (wow!) In between we had a fun quiz, and learnt so much, drank cups of tea or water and chatted, cracking jokes, and learnt that Chocolate was a drug( it must be as there was a garden gnome stuck on the ceiling of the shop!)
Then finally we made some chocolate covered cakes , kindly supplied by Floriane. They didn’t last too long!
She had spent the evening before melting the chocolate and all we had to do was make a mess!
The time ran like rabbits and at the end, mouth smeared with cholate and new friends made, we bought some stuff and visited the shops of the presenters. A great gift!
After we browsed in Marion’s store and bought some goodies, and visited Floriane’s store for some great ideas, which I’ll use when I try to make Easter eggs. I MUST pop back to both shops and get some equipment ASAP! Why not give it a go yourself?