Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Belgian chocolates

Belgian chocolates are undoubtedly Belgium’s best known export product – apart from beer, perhaps. When I ‘m travelling abroad, I’m always surprised by the many specialized franchised shops selling our national specialty. Leonidas, Godiva, Jef de Bruges, Neuhaus … These are the most common brands you’ll find outside of Belgium. The best of these is certainly Neuhaus, as it’s the least industrialized of them all.

The absolute top brand, however, is Corné. This ‘chocolatier’ only uses the best ingredients and the handmade chocolates often have a smooth filling of flavoured butter or whipped cream. You should stock them in a cool place and eat them within 10 days after buying them. Otherwise the fresh and delicate filling will turn bad. For most people, however, this time limit doesn’t seem to be a problem, as the chocolates are so delicious.

I remember offering a ‘ballotin’ (the special box in which the chocolates are packed) of 1 kilogram to my second ‘mum’ R., who lives in Deal, Kent and at whose house I spent several summer holidays when I was a teenager. It was in July 1981, and the whole nation was ‘scotched’ to its television screen watching the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer. R. had her neighbour and friend S. in to watch the event with us. By the time Diana had become Princess of Wales, the contents of the ‘ballotin’ had shrunk by half.

When buying a ‘ballotin’ of Belgian chocolates, avoid the pre-packed boxes, as there is no way of telling how long they have been sitting on the store shelves. Ask the saleslady to compose your own assortment, choosing from the bulk chocolates on the trays behind the glass counter. That way you can pick the flavours you like best and have the guarantee that your chocolates are nice and fresh. Avoid chocolates that have a whitish shine to them. This means that they have been exposed to the air too long and that the sugars in the chocolate have started to crystallize. They won’t make you sick nor will they kill you, but they have lost their typical and original chocolate flavour. No sense wasting money on them.

The famous 'Manon', although this photo doesn't do it justice!

I’ve noticed that a lot of people have an outspoken preference for the so-called ‘Manon’. The classic Manon has a filling of grilled hazelnut and butter cream with a mild coffee flavour. It is coated in white chocolate. Unless you make yourself a selection from the vast assortment most shops have to offer, a ballotin only contains one or two Manons. If you like ‘Manons’ and you’re the first one to chose a chocolate from a newly opened ‘ballotin’ it’s extremely bad manners to pick the one and only Manon without enquiring first if someone else is interested. In most cases people will gallantly reply: “Of course not. Go ahead.” But in their minds they will be cursing you for ‘stealing’ THEIR ‘Manon’ … unless that other person is me … because I don’t especially like them. Give me a good, slightly bitter-sweet dark chocolate anytime!



chm said...

Here, in the States, I had some Godiva chocolates, and I must say I wasn't really impressed. But, of course, just like you, I like dark chocolate and not that bland concoction Americans seem to like, the so-called "chocolat au lait."
Some of the best dark chocolate I've ever had, in the "tablette" form, was by Debauve & Gallais. That was half a century ago. I thought they had disappeared. They still exist on 30, rue des Saint-Pères in Paris. Their boutique has shrunk, but they're still there.
Their chocolates are very expensive, but I guess they're worth it.

I have never seen any of the other brands you mention.

Carolyn said...

Thank you for telling us about the Manon. I hope I can try it someday. Our chocolate purchases in France are limited to what we can find in supermarkets. We always pick a Belgian brand--Elephant, I think--and it's very good.

ladybird said...

chm, How strange you've never heard of Leonidas, as their franchised shops are very popular in France ... As far as the US are concerned, I don't really know.

Carolyn, I hope you'll enjoy the Manon. Are you sure that Elephant is a Belgian brand, as I've never seen it in Belgium? Maybe it's only intended for the export. I'll certainly be looking out for it the next time I go shopping in one the larger supermarkets in and around Brussels.

Ken Broadhurst said...

There is a very good chocolatier in Montrichard. His name is Serge Granger and his boutique is at 50, rue Nationale, right in the center of town. He has the Meilleur Ouvrier de France title.

Leon Sims said...

Ah, chocolat.....The movie.
As for the actual chocolate, I remember discovering a Chocolatier in St Remy de Provence on our last day of a wonderful week. The assistant loved her work and as she decribed each type, she tasted each one with us. And she was skinny.

Anonymous said...

Oh I do love Belgian chocolate. I've tried most of the chocolatiers on your list. But I don't know the Manons!
You've got quite a gastromic orgy going on there too!

Carolyn said...

Oh, I meant Cote d'Or, which has an elephant as a logo. I love the huge chocolate display in French supermarkets, 70' worth, with all the bars standing on end rather than sideways--the better to pack in more bars.

ladybird said...

Ken, Lucky you to have a Maître Chocolatier in Montrichard. Do you go there often?

Leon and Sue, Someone once told me that chocolate isn't fattening ;) Unfortunately, I don't think it applies to everybody!

Dedene, You'll adore the Manons if you like white chocolate and hazlenuts.

Carolyn, Of course! How silly of me me. Your comment intrigued me, so I googled 'Elephant chocolate' today and discovered it was our famous Côte d'Or. Have you tried their 'Bouchées' yet? They are delicious!