Gourmet Nantes

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!WP_20160116_11_48_00_Pro

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?









Picking blackberries

So we walked, Tupperware boxes in our hands down those leafy country paths,bushes and plants towering over our heads, giving the impression we were walking into natures green cathedral. Its a Sunday afternoon, the heat is shimmering on the tarmac, and the breeze is slight. Its not so hot that you have to lie in the shade panting though, and this afternoon looks promising. We walk towards the Méron Marshes. Along the hedgerows we see many bushes bearing fruit, rose hips, hawthorns ,sloes, blackberries, all laden with ripening fruit. Autumn is early this year. Here and there, in those deep dry ditches, we can here animals scuttling, lizards, birds. I warn Tom about snakes, and stay close. But they are just lizards, darting over the stones.

Picking sloes and blackberries, the summer heat beats down on us, walking through those country paths, chatting in the long grass, being stung by nettles and buzzed by insects.Our hands are scratched, blue with juice. Tom and I fill up our bowls with fruit, and head back home.The crunch of the stones as we walk, the summer sun slowly sinking, shadows lengthening.We get to our kitchen and empty the bowls, and head out again.We’ll make a blackberry pie, and the sloes will go in the freezer, and I’ll make sloe gin with them. The warmth of the summer sun can still be tasted then, even in the depths of winter.