Chocolate is an important part of life in Belgium. Belgians have said for years that chocolate was good for you. Now we know that it's true: chocolate lowers cholesterol and keeps us happy. Chocolate is serious business here. Every year, the grand chocolate houses create new chocolates. When the crown Prince and Princess have another child, chocolates are created to celebrate. Needless to say, buying a box of chocolates is a very different experience here than in the US.
First, you have to know that there are different ‘grades’ of Belgian chocolate. The international industrial chocolate brands are what has brought Belgian Chocolates their reputation, and they’re an important part of the chocolate story here. But Belgians rarely buy them. Then there are the smaller industrial brands, generally available all over Belgium and perhaps in neighboring countries, but not overseas. Those are, in my opinion, a step above the international industrials. But they’re still industrial grade chocolates. That is to say, they’re made by machines.
The chocolates prized by Belgians are those that are made by hand, the artisanale chocolates. With some notable exceptions, these are only available in the region where they’re made, often only available in one shop. In one town. Everybody has his or her favorite chocolatier, and I’m no exception.
This is our favorite chocolate shop, La Maison Saive.
You choose the box size and form, and then choose what you want to go in it. The vendeuse then puts on a white cotton glove and carefully places each chocolate in the box. When the box is full, it’s closed up and finished with a bow. Each box. Every box. Made personally to your specifications.
Christophe makes around 8 TONS of chocolate each year. Ninety percent of that is pralines, which weigh between 10 and 15 grams each. That’s more than (lemesee....carry the two....divided by....) 575,000 individual chocolates. Each one made by hand. In the workshop (atelier) Christophe works with Sophie, his apprentice. In the front of the shop there’s Florence, his wife. In the busy seasons (like now) his parents help out--his dad in the atelier and his mom in the shop while Florence packs the Christmas orders for corporate customers. It’s a real family business.
Like the big chocolate houses, Christophe creates a new praline each year. In the past, he’s introduced us to pralines with lavender, rose, licorice, allspice, as well as some surprising ones: beer, cumin, tomato (it IS a fruit!), balsamic vinegar, and (oh, yes!) cardamom. Cardamom was my favorite until this year. This year, Christophe brought us truffled truffles. Oh, my.
Continuing chocolate week, in my next post I’ll show you how these chocolates are made. Meanwhile, don’t forget the double truffle giveaway --there’s still time to enter!