It’s not the chocolate that’s cruel, it’s me, your writer. This being chocolate’s big week for sales and I am writing about two extraordinary chocolate varieties which you’ll not be able to find unless a) you’re amidst the excitement that is Marseille, or b) passing through elegant Angers.
For those of you who are in neither place, opt for Lindt (& Sprungli’s) chocolate. Available just about everywhere and the best in class for the price. Their milk chocolate reigns supreme due to their unique ‘conching’ process which gives Lindt milk chocolate its finesse of taste because the cocoa is gently milled down to the ‘N’ thousandth’s of microns. Many of their moulds are original and date back to the 30s.
Google Lindt and read their history – I promise there’s nothing cheap or murky about Lindt. They hold high values at great height, like the giant mountains that surround them. The Swiss, in their characteristic attention to absolute detail, insist in law that for chocolate to be labelled ‘Swiss Milk’ it can only be made from full cream milk from Swiss cows grazing in Switzerland. There are no fakes possible.
My two artisanal chocolate makers – chocolatiers - are also splendid – one being quite my all time favourite since I fell on them in a food fair in Paris about six years ago.
This is L’Espérantine de Marseille – makers of a 72% pure cocoa chocolate made with Extra Virgin olive oil – and unique for this alone. Their range is tightly controlled – only the essential and nothing frivolous or wasteful. This is a core brand value for ‘Espérantine’ from the French verb espérer meaning to hope.
Stop for a moment and we remember that olive oil was a natural partner to cocoa since it was first discovered in the America’s by the Spanish – sauces based on, or finished with, butter were only possible in dairy rich regions. It seems to me only right then that the Espérantine marriage of olive oil and cocoa should come about in another of the world’s greatest port cities, Marseille.
At risk of telling my readers what they already know – for the few that don’t – a ripe olive is black and one that’s not quite ready is green – regardless of variety. There are as many varieties of olive as there are grapes – and aside from the horrid hoja blanca from southern Spain, that country’s ‘industrial’ olive, most as far as I know are pure strains even to this day.
L’Espérantine still sell only through selected food stores, food fairs and by mail - no supermarkets, no petrol stations, indeed nowhere that would lessen the magic of their brand. L’Espérantine is pure chic without even a hint of pretence.
They showed me their newest idea at the Salon d’Agricole in Paris recently. It was a tiny cellophane bag containing a green olive leaf and a few green and black ’olives’ – these have a clever little tag to affix a name. They sell in lots of 50, 100, 200 and more for weddings in France – a world famous symbol of peace and hope for the new couple. Truly delightful and very much the style of the company.
They arrived on the scene in 1999, and were awarded France’s renowned ‘Cordon Bleu’ the following year, 2000, for the ‘best confectionery of the year’. Theirs is a 72% cocoa chocolate, made with Provençal E/V olive oil – and then filled with almonds, candied orange peel and mint.Each ingredient has meaning – each speaks of the Mediterannean.
The original L’Espérantine Boutique is to be found at no 15 rue des Vignerons, 13006 Marseille – all this and more, including mail order, on www.esperantine-de-marseille.com.
If I get to Marseille as I’ve been promised later this year – to taste the up-coming chefs new takes on the Bouillabaisse – be sure I’ll be into the Espérantine boutique to visit this wonderful, always smiley team led for me by Melissa Ingretolli.
Next back north to Angers (Loire) - a first time discovery at this year’s Salon in Paris. Blue chocolate that’s entirely natural with the indigo blue colour coming from the edible indigo flower – said to be one of the world’s most expensive natural dyes. These are Les Quernons d’Ardoise – blue chocolate, nougatine filled (caramelised praline of almonds and hazelnuts) croquants which resemble the original blue slates on the old roofs of Angers and the surrounding towns. Le Quernon d’Ardoise began its life in 1966.
‘Sur le toit de la gourmandise’ is their claim – translating poorly into ‘rooftop temptations’ making it sound more like a down market box of 80s English ’veggelates’, than the fine, gastronomic item that is Le Quernon d’Ardoise.
I could say it too should become the symbol of Blue Collar Gastronomy – we’ll certainly source them and L’Espérantine when we start holding dinners to spread the word. They too will sell off the internet – www.quernon.com. They are also award winning, taking the Ruban Bleu International in 1990.
Both these chocolatiers have a common calm and are confident in their shoes – Lindt is the same. What’s gone wrong with so many of the others, many of whom had wonderful Quaker roots? I think we know the answer – the founders pass on and greed coupled with not a care for quality takes over. That’s the industrial food business all over.
Stay where you feel excellence reigns. That’s Blue Collar Gastronomy to a ‘T’.
Bonne Fête – Joyeuse Pacques. The coming Easter Feast on Sunday is still a long way off.