A sublime fresh cocoa scent lures you in. Mindless about your feet stumbling on the old Parisian cobbled street, as if you were about to fly – like a bee seduced by a fragrant flower, your nose cajoles you further inside the indistinct courtyard. In the midst of the poised hive of activity at the crossroads of the third and eleventh arrondissement nests the Alain Ducasse chocolate manufacture.
Now, it strikes you – right here, behind a prodigious thick glass wall nests a little kingdom of chocolate. This is Ducasse’s boyhood fantasy becoming reality of a grown-up man as the cocoa kingdom is his first chocolate manufacture that he added to his gastronomic-driven empire of restaurants, cookbooks, travel guides and Relais & Châteaux style luxury hotels.
The Alain Ducasse chocolate factory is a beguiling attraction in the quirky 11th district of Paris, cozied in a little street just off Bastille. As you venture inside, marvel at the chocolate specialties displayed like precious jewels in a glass bubble arching over a table serving as the centre piece of the boutique cum manufactory. It would be a sin NOT to pick up one. Unlike for Eve not resisting her lust for the apple the Paradise, chocolate is allowed in today’s world where its antioxidant and other healthful properties are praised by nutritionists.
Back to pleasure, whether it is a mere joy from watching the chocolate production process, or savouring the handcrafted bonbons, bars and other in cocoa dipped morsels any chocolate lover will be moved emotionally and physically. Even the multi-Michelin decorated chef, Ducasse, calls chocolate “a terribly sensual and bewitching substance“, so bite in!
It is a smart business step to dip one’s nose into chocolate these days – with its quality returning back its heydays, also top chefs find chocolate attractive, and why not? The celebrity chef cult is now extended with Alain Ducasse’s new title – an artistic director of chocolate manufacturing. Who would not desire his job – he tastes and suggests variations in the chocolate products made in traditional fashion, and consults his artisan chocolatier Nicolas Berger how to make the already delicious truffles and other luxurious cocoa-dusted delicacies even tastier.
Packed luxuriously in an eco wood paper box, that can be recycled, but looks chic when carried around Paris, I rarely resist buying a couple of the superb quality chocolates. The shape and breaking style of the chocolate bars are masterminded by graphic designer Pierre Tachon. These gourmet specialities do not come cheap, but this makes them more special treats and not a quantum of sugar consumed on one occasion. The standard chocolate bars weigh 75g and cost between €7 and €10 (the more rare the origin of the cocoa the higher the price), but the range balloons to giant one to three kilo suitable for the serious chocoholics. Most contain vanilla pods and fleur de sel uplifting the cocoa fragrances.
Alain Ducasse chocolate manufacture in Paris makes either single origin bars, house blends reflecting the “traditional” style and more seriously sweet chocolate specialities such as the “mendiants” and “filled (fourrée)” bars.
Alain Ducasse chocolate 100% Peru Trinitario is so far the only pure cocoa bar. Its deep earthy taste with notes of bitter citruses and coffee is not for every palate, but the 75% Peru in Trinitario or Criollo cocoa bean varietals are both more tender with still prevailing citrus and coffee notes, hazelnut and vegetal freshness and good equilibrium of tannins and acidity. The Criollo comes from the lighter coloured and most refined Porcelana, considered the holy grail of cocoa, that makes the complex balanced dark chocolate look almost like a milk bar. The Non-conched version is crunchy with the unrefined sugar changing the texture and aroma to fermented grape juice and lily flower scents.
The Venezuela 75% dark chocolate bar is excellent as always when I savour the Chuao plantation its complex sweet honey, intense flower bouquet and dried fruits flavours come to overwhelm my sensuous palate. While the all blend of Venezuela 75% dark chocolate bar with its more dusty coffee and wood bark slightly covers the fruity and floral aromas found otherwise in the Chuao.
Ducasse must think of diabetics in today’s demanding consumer world, and his 85 % dark chocolate blend is sugar-free as the more sweet, yet much less calorific maltiol is used instead. Maltiol tastes much better than the herbaceous stevia, that is also used in the bar. Maltiol’s drawback is that it is not purely natural. Fruity, flowery lively flavours mingle with dry rustic character and rough mouthfeel, but it is a very intriguing ‘almost’ guilt-free treat.
From the other single origin bars I highly recommend the fruit-bursting, spicy and exotic incense evoking Vietnam 75% dark chocolate, and the Dominican Republic 75% Hispaniola, that like a Caribbean dance evokes freshness, fun, curiosity and exotic fruit fragrant oils with floral scents.
The Filled – ‘Fouree’ chocolate bars are enrobed by a thin chocolate layer. The Hazelnut Praline with Fleur de Sel has more crunch thanks to cracking biscuits fused with generously pounded hazelnuts (60% of the total are hazelnuts). Its contrasting texture with melting smooth chocolate touches and calms tense nerves of anyone finding peace while crunching on something (nuts supply the nerve-calming B vitamins).
The Chocolate Mendiants are bathed in 75% dark chocolate from Venezuela and permeated with caramelised sweet nuts and/or dried fruits. The Caramelised hazelnut in the Piedmont fashion has crunch of the whole nuts, while the Mixed Fruits Mendiant is impregnated with almonds, figs, sweetened oranges, grapes and pistachios, is more like an interesting but natural chocolate cake and not just a bar.
Alain Ducasse chocolate bonbons underline creativity in “double-bites” and “ganaches gourmand“; pure origins in the ganaches from Java, smooth Madagascar, deep Peru, Trinidad and fruity Venezuela; honour tradition with “old fashioned” pralines with crunchy almonds, hazelnuts, roasted coconut, pistachio or peanut; the creamy “rectangular truffles” enrobing either a dark chocolate ganache, vanilla ganache or orange praline; and fanfare for the “rochers” garnished with nut or caramelized fruits. The rochers are the pinnacle of indulgence in the Ducasse’s noble stable of treats. A small selection of them is offered after a meal at Ducasse’s gastronomic restaurants such as the flamboyant Luis XV in Monaco.
Just recently, in March 2014, a new boutique in Saint-Germain-des-Pres (26, Rue Saint Benoit) opened its doors catering to more chocolate lovers venturing rather to this artistic quarter of Paris then to the quirky Bastille area.
40, Rue de la Roquette, 75011 Paris (Metro: Bastille)
Boutique only at 26, Rue Saint Benoit, Paris, France
+33 1 48 05 82 86