So I started writing this post of an insight into Salon du Chocolat in Paris, on the plane to Grenada (yep, to visit the Grenada Chocolate Company, where I had a lovely tour with Mott that I will post about soon). Unfortunately my notebook battery is so poor now that I had to wait to finish it.
Salon du Chocolat is the biggest chocolate exhibition in the world. It started in Paris in 1994 as a trade show and is now hosted in several other cities around the world, including New York, Tokyo and this year in Shanghai. The Paris show is still the biggest. All the shows are open to the public as well but it is still visited by most industry professionals. This is the second time Iâ€™ve been, the last in 2008, and it was just as thrilling to walk into the enormous building and see a room filled with chocolate. Many of the large, commercial chocolate manufacturers are there, slap in your face as you walk in, then there are countries represented, showing their beans and sometimes other products, there are a few odd candy, foie gras and spice stands and then there are the fine chocolatiers. Knowing the layout from the first time, I made my way immediately to the fine chocolate section.
In the experience I have with chocolate so far I have noticed that the stalwart French chocolatiers tend not to push the boundaries as much as the British chocolatiers and so much of what I saw here was repeats of previous years. But Jean Paul Hevin had a chocolats des fromages box and there were several French/Japanese fusion brands that were probably the first to come out with matcha tea chocolate and there were at least two of the provincial chocolatiers that had chocolates with mushroom, one a caramel and one a truffle made with truffle. Hmm. For your vicarious experience I sampled both and while neither were unpleasant I would not be thrilled to receive a box full of them. These chocolates may have been impacted by the chocolate used, in the truffle truffle I tried some more traditional flavours in the selection and was just as unimpressed. If it wasnâ€™t that there was just so much incredibly good quality chocolate in the room then maybe these lesser chocolates wouldnâ€™t be so obvious, but in side by side comparison itâ€™s too easy to discern those that have cut costs by using cheaper couverture, or by adding life extending ingredients.
Itâ€™s also easier to pick the stand outs. I stopped in front of a stand claiming World Patissier Chamption, Arizona 2010. The man himself, Franck Kestener, spent some time talking to me and offering me chocolates to taste. There was an enormous range and most of them interesting flavour combinations. I bought two boxes (one as a gift!) and as I signed my receipt I saw the bar I bought in April when I was last in Paris. I asked Franck if he made it, he did, and told him I was my favourite chocolate bar in the world. Itâ€™s a large, square, thin biscuit, covered in a thick layer of salted caramel and all encased in delicious dark chocolate. Amazing. See:
I met up with Martin Christy of Seventypercent.com shortly afterwards and he introduced me to a few others in the chocolate world. I caught him just as he was about to go and taste some of the entrants into the first ever cocoa competition. 20 countries submitted cocoa beans that were all processed identically to produce liquor and chocolate bars. The liquor samples were assessed first and those making the grade were made into chocolate bars and judged in a blind panel by a big cross section of chocolatiers and other chocolate experts. We sampled six of the entrants and were all incredibly impressed by the two varieties from Papua New Guinea. Hopefully this competition will encourage countries to pay more attention to the types of trees they plant and how they process them afterwards.
The rest, I believe, is best told in pictures.