Tuesday, January 6, 2009

France - the wonderful power of chocolate

You can't really talk about France without mentioning chocolate. And since this is French week, well then, here's my chocolate post.

When I studied in Toulouse (southwestern France), I found the 4th best chocolatier in the country on the main shopping drag. It was a cute little store (I don't remember the name) that had any kind of chocolate you wanted - bar shapes of dark chocolate with anything from ginger to fruit to nuts, little chocolates under glass, like the ones you get in boxes of chocolate, gift boxes of chocolate, all that good stuff. As at the time I didn't eat dark chocolate, I would settle for a big honkin' hunk of milk chocolate. I'd bring it into the movie theater with me and gnaw on it until my teeth hurt. I brought some with me on vacation to Great Britain, and bought a bunch of tea, which I stored in the same pouch as the chocolate. The chocolate took on the flavor of the tea, which was rather strange and not all that pleasant, given the large variety of teas I had. I miss that chocolate.

Then there's the hot chocolate, which is just called chocolat there. You can ask for a chocolat chaud but it just sounds funny to me. If it's morning and you go to a cafe and ask for a chocolat, you'll get a bowl of hot chocolate that's very yummy. And yes, it comes in a bowl. I went to see a movie last year where the character drank their hot chocolate from a bowl. The American I was seeing it with thought that they were using a bowl because all the mugs were dirty, and was amused when I said that no, that's really how the French drink it. The taste of the hot chocolate there? It's good stuff, but honestly, I'm a child of the Swiss Mix generation, and I have trouble really getting on board with the good stuff.

You can't talk about French chocolate without talking Nutella. Sure, it's not really chocolate. It's like Cool Whip is whipped cream - it tastes like chocolate, it's called chocolate, it has chocolate as an ingredient, but it's a mass market product. But even given that, I have to tell you that I love the stuff. I wasn't always on board. It always struck me as rather strange to spread chocolate hazelnut frosting on bread, and I've never been all that big on chocolate with breakfast. But then I bought some and started putting it on my morning toast at work. And man, I'm a convert, yes sirree I am.

What with the European Union's regulations, there's been a lot of talk in France (at least there was several years ago when I was there, I honestly don't know how they've worked it out) about how the globalization was going to hurt the small artisans. Because anybody could call themselves a chocolatier even if they didn't undergo the same standards as the original French version. Same thing with cheese (as well as the standards to try to reduce the amount of raw milk used, which also reduces the amount of yummy taste. Cheese post coming up on Thursday). But I don't have the time or wherewithall at the moment (between blowing my nose and coughing) to do all the requisite research about the chocolate appellation process and the current regulations, so I'll just leave with the vague impressions I was given 8 years ago. But the whole issue of globalization is an important one, in that it affects the individual process of products.

So off with you, have a candy bar today, and if nobody sees you eat it, then it doesn't count!


Leah J. Utas said...

Proper chocolate. Sigh. I used to like milk chocolate, and full disclosure, I actually still do. For health reasons (yeah, that's it, health) I use the dark stuff now.
I've had chocolate right off the tree. Bitter. Happy for the processing, such as it is, that brings us the good stuff.

We can't get raw milk in Canada, fresh or in cheese. It's wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The Lethological Gourmet said...

You can't get it at all? Not even at really outlandish prices? It's hard to find the good stuff here in the States, but if you want to spend $10-$20 on a small wheel of cheese you can get raw milk.

I do still like milk chocolate. Hershey's is the taste of my childhood. And to be honest, I still do kind of prefer it to dark, just taste wise. But I'm training myself to like the dark stuff, and I've found some that I like.

I just went to a tea store today and guess what they were selling? Hot chocolate with spearmint tea infused in it. I had to try some. Had steamed milk and chocolate shavings in it too. It was yummy :)

Charlotte said...

Mmmm... chocolate. Now I have a massive craving. I swear when I lived in Europe I ate chocolate 6 meals a day. The wax in cheap (a.k.a. Hershey's chocolate) is so nasty! FYI: I can't get raw milk here in MN either. It's freakin' illegal!! I know!