Once again, The Beer Boor strays from his regular duties as a beverage correspondent to discuss indulging his sweet tooth, and learn a bit in the process. This time around, it’s chocolate — specifically, the production of chocolate and one chocolatier’s opinion on how to best savor the experience.
Recently I was invited to attend class at La Maison du Chocolat. Tamanaco, as the class is called, offered the opportunity to learn about the chocolate-making process in great depth, from the cacao trees and their differences through the production of chocolate for chocolatiers industrial and artisanal alike.
The tables in back of the shop were laid out with the hands-on materials for the night — chocolate and other cocoa products. Our lecturer and LMdC evangelist, Michael Olsen, clearly has a great love of chocolate and the process from tree to couverture (the ready-to-use large blocks of “finished” chocolate).
We were greeted with a cup of hot chocolate — literally melted chocolate, so it was thick and rich, with a bit of a bitter edge. This I drank while looking at the chocolate spread before me for the class.
Michael began with discussion of the three types of cocoa trees: Criollos produces the finest, most delicate cocoa beans, but its delicateness makes it tough to grow, so these trees represent just 4% of the worldwide market. Forastero is the workhorse, and represents about 70%-75% of production. Trinitario is a hybrid of the two, with the delicate cocoa of the Criollos and the robust growth of the Forastero, and makes up the rest of the cocoa planted in the world.
But then of course it was time to taste. Tasting requires small bites, letting the chocolate melt on the palate, and we dutifully followed the leader. First up was a disc of 41% cocoa milk chocolate, sourced from Trinitario trees in Ecuador, followed by the Bohéme, a ganache made with that chocolate. Both were silky and not overly sweet, a far cry from “industrial” chocolates.
The “shell” on LMdC’s ganaches is obviously more solid than the ganache, but it should adhere to that creamy center to give contrasting textures from the same chocolate.
In between all this, we had the opportunity to taste and feel some of the “parts” of the cocoa bean, including cocoa butter — just fat, no taste, and yes, used in so much more than chocolate production — and dried beans awaiting conversion into the chocolate we know, both as whole beans and as “nibs.”
Third up, we tried the disc of 61% chocolate from Madagascar. Despite the rising chocolate content, this was not bitter, a trait of the best dark chocolates according to Michael. This was created from 80% Trinitario and 20% Criollo cocoa beans.
This was followed by the Guayaquíl, a ganache made from that chocolate. This ganache proved to be my favorite of the three, just a wonderful flavor. This chocolate is a staple of La Maison’s line.
The last two chocolates from the table spread were made from the 65% Venezuelan chocolate, comprised of the same ratio of Trinitario and Criollo cocoa beans.
Believe me, this is a tasty ganache. The shape is dictated by the chocolate used, too. No attribute is unspoken for in the chocolates here!
We then sampled from the variety of chocolates that had additives. Rigoletto is the caramel, not particularly sweet, but a pure flavor that industrial chocolates never approach.
Andalusée was next, a lemon ganache, made from all Criollo beans. The lemon was not particularly strong in this, and tasted of the rind more than the juice — a drier sort of lemon to complement the ganache.
Finally, we tried the cinnamon ganache. Here Michael noted that if the cinnamon doesn’t come from Mexico or Sri Lanka (Ceylon), it’s cassia, not cinnamon, and, well, that’s just wrong. The cinnamon worked so well with the base chocolate in this one — I savored each bite (of which there were two), letting it melt in my mouth. It wasn’t overpowering and, being that they source the high-quality stuff, didn’t taste like the cinnamon we tend to encounter in our food.
After the tasting session, we were treated to a ganache demonstration. I’ve been afraid to try my hand at it, but it looked so easy when Michael whipped it up.
Warm cream (1:1 ratio by weight), is added to broken-up chocolate, whisking the whole time… voila!
He even showed a quick-and-dirty chocolate mousse, created by whisking whipped cream (from the aerosol can, no less!) into the ganache. So it didn’t really taste like mousse, but the consistency was pretty close, and the average party guest wouldn’t think anything was strange about it. At any rate, I ate my share with pleasure.
We wound down the session with informal discussion about the chocolate industry, and not a little bit of trash talking about various chocolatiers, enlivened the conversation as we polished off the ganache and went our separate ways.
Over all, I spent a pleasant two hours-plus learning quite a lot about chocolate and understanding the passion of those who make chocolate their life’s work. I’m a fan of La Maison du Chocolat in the first place (especially their macarons), and sure, their chocolates are pretty expensive, but I think the care that goes into crafting each bonbon makes the price tag worth it. Who wouldn’t like receiving a box of their chocolates? Wrap that up with the exceptional customer service offered in the shop, and I give them the status of a luxury worth indulging every so often.