Monday, February 28, 2011

Chocolate: The Later Years

"It has been shown as proof positive that carefully prepared chocolate is as healthful a food as it is pleasant; that it is nourishing and easily digested... that it is above all helpful to people who must do a great deal of mental work." - Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

I used to think I knew a lot about chocolate. Well, I DID… that is, until our trip to Belgium- a country with its priorities in check: chocolate, fries, waffles and beer. Everywhere you look there is a chocolatier, sometimes one on every corner. Life is good in Belgium.

Chocolate is not just something used to fill Easter baskets, it is an art form. Chocolate is not sold in stores, it is sold in boutiques. It is treated with the utmost respect and given the white glove treatment (literally). Belgian chocolate is heaven on earth. While there are many purveyors of fine chocolates, our devotion lies with Pierre Marcolini. He is a chocolate god. What he can do with chocolate will astound your senses and make you forget you’re paying around $100 per pound. (Makes that sponge candy a bargain at $18 a pound, doesn’t it?) He scours the world for the best cacao beans and creates the most unique flavor combinations. How about a lavender-infused truffle? Or one laced with Earl Grey tea? Each delicacy is topped with a gold-leaf label. These are definitely not chocolates you scarf down one after the other. I liken the Pierre experience to wine tasting; take it slow, little bits at a time, and savor every smooth morsel. 

Chocolate display at Neuhaus for Easter

If my memory serves me correctly, we actually dined on a box of Pierre Marcolini chocolates on Easter while visiting our friends in Brussels. That’s what I’m talking about!

When Pierre (or the funding for it) is not available, we’ll opt for Neuhaus. Our first encounter with Neuhaus chocolate was when our friends came back to the States for Easter and brought with them a GIANT chocolate egg filled with various truffles. That only solidified our need to go visit them in Belgium. Neuhaus is a more mainstream chocolatier with a handful of stores in the US; it is also about half the cost of Pierre Marcolini! If you figured it out, that’s still not cheap but it is really good chocolate. It’s fun working your way through the box, or ballotin, of assorted pralines. Not to be confused with the southern candy, Belgian pralines are chocolates packed with various fillings (buttercream, nuts, marzipan, liquor or even more chocolate). Neuhaus includes a visual guide to your chocolates so you see what you’re getting yourself into before you commit. It’s hard to find a bad praline, though, so even if you indulge blindly you’re sure to enjoy each and every one.

After our trip to Belgium, we find it a challenge to eat anything but Belgian chocolate. Call us chocolate snobs; we'll admit that we are. It's our guilty pleasure, though there's usually very little guilt involved when we seek its pleasure!

Contents of our carry-on!

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