Friday, April 2, 2010
Tasting with La Maison du Chocolat
With boutique locations in Paris, New York, Cannes, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong, La Maison du Chocolat don't mess around. Master chocolatier Robert Linxe's philosophy is that everyone should have one piece of exquisite chocolate a day. I'm not sure if he meant that everyone should have at least one piece, but certainly one of La Maison du Chocolat's ganaches would keep you satisfied for a week in this Hersey permeated world. Good chocolate, just like good cheese, wine or other victuals is an indulgence going forward. Once you take that step into the hard stuff, you can't go back the same.
I had the opportunity to taste four chocolates from this fancy boutique through an event hosted by the Columbia Gastronomy Society. Manager Anca Niculescu walked us through the chocolate making process to inculcate an appreciation for the four morsels in front of us.
Cocoa butter, cocoa nibs, cocoa beans
We dissected the cocoa bean, which come in cacao pods. Inside each bean are tiny cocoa nibs that are ground into chocolate liquor. The liquor is then separated into cocoa powder and cocoa butter.
Cracked open bean with all its cocoa goodness falling out
The manager emphasized that La Maison du Chocolat used the highest quality cacao pods, the Criollo variety, whereas typical industrial chocolate makers utilized the more common Forastero. This differentiation didn't mean much to me as someone outside of the industry, but the fact that they could claim this exclusivity meant something in itself. What stuck with me was the manager's description of the shelf-life of good chocolate. Most of her ganaches lasted about four weeks, and she added that you should be skeptical of chocolates that have unnaturally long shelf-lives. Another useful tip, if the chocolate leaves a filmy feeling in your mouth, it could be an indication that the maker used vegetable oil as a replacement for cocoa butter. Chocolate is best kept in the climate of a wine cellar. Never freeze chocolate.
Grain dentelle - milk chocolate praliné with slivers of crispy waffle
I had always been a fan of chocolate pralines and I urge anyone who spots a gold box of Goldkenn Swiss pralines to treat herself. The tasting started with this milk chocolate exhibition of textures. The chocolate started dense in the middle and opened outwards with an airy crispness to thin waffle layer at the top. The lightest chocolate came first and each piece was progressively darker.
Micaëla - Milk chocolate mousse infused with pure Kenyan Arabica coffee
This was our first infusion. A mousse, whipped ganache creating a playful levity. A hint of caramel that comes from the chocolate beans themselves and not from any added ingredient. The coffee depth. The beans are steeped in cream, brought to a rolling boil, before being mixed with the chocolate.
Andalousie - Dark chocolate ganache infused with lemon zest
Just a sniff and you'll get the citrus right away. Real fruits always taste better than their chemical counterparts. Just like there is a distinct difference between lemon juice and lemon zest, you can feel a concentration of oils in this chocolate. This was one of the denser chocolates in terms of texture. Just look at the picture of the black hole of cocoa.
Chiberta - Dark chocolate mousse infused with orange and lemon zest
Somewhat like a combination of the second and third chocolates, I expected the flavor to be similar too. Actually, I've never been particularly fond of orange chocolates, but given the experience with the lemon zest ganache, I figured the orange would be delicious. In fact, the orange was distinctively different from the lemon. More than just being sweeter, less tart, there was actually an essence of orange like the difference between a San Pellegrino Limonta and Aranciata.
With those four, I think I'm set on chocolate for a week at least. But what's the future hold? I anticipate that I'll be stopping into one of La Maison du Chocolat's three boutiques from time to time to keep up my fancy chocolate cravings. They hold two hour tasting for $70, a terrific special occasion gift.
La Maison du Chocolat
1018 Madison Ave
Manhattan, NY 10075
30 Rockefeller Center,
Manhattan, NY 10020
63 Wall St
Manhattan, NY 10005