Saturday, March 28, 2009


Caroline's question (see post "Paris -- Images of Holiday Food") has prompted me to make a first post on the subject of chocolate. This is certainly a huge topic; after all, who doesn't love it and have an opinion on which is best? It is also one of the most subjective topics I can think of, and I hope my readers will share their thoughts in order to start a debate that could continue forever. My thoughts below only scratch the surface, to be sure.

I divide the area into 4 topics: chocolate candies, chocolate bars, cooking chocolate and drinking chocolate. I will not comment on the fourth topic because I virtually never drink the stuff (you just have to draw a line somewhere, and that's it for me). I will only deal with first-class chocolates, not commercial products like Hershey's, Nestle's and Baker's or their much better French equivalents.

Chocolate Candies

There are many great stores, but for me the best in New York is Maison de Chocolat. Of course, they are in Paris, too, but there is so much competition that they are just one of many fine players. Also in New York are Teuscher (justly famous for their champagne truffles), Pierre Marcolini (never tried), Richart (I don't love these), Vosges (made in the USA and really excellent), Godiva (seemed great in the 80s before the fantastic explosion of great chocolates), all the famous European houses and lots of small makers whose wares I have not sampled.

In Paris, I just love La Petite Rose, which also happens to make the best lemon tart in the world. (See my post "Paris -- Best Lemon Tart in the World.") But more famous (and 50% more expensive) are Michel Cluizel, Jean-Paul Hévin, Richart and the famous pâtissiers: Lenôtre, Dalloyau, Pierre Hermé, Christian Constant, Gérard Mulot, etc. And there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other chocolatiers and pâtissiers who make their own. And don't forget the great traiteurs, like the Grande Epicerie at Bon Marché, Hédiard and Lafayette Gourmet at Galeries Lafayette.

It is not really possible to reach a conclusion as to which of these is the best, or even which are the top two or three. You just have to try them all. For more information, an article on "The Hundred Best Chocolatiers in France" can be found at

Chocolate Bars

Again, there's no clear choice. There are hundreds to choose from, with a variety of intensities (I like 60-70% cacao; more than that and I find the bar too dry), origins (one-plantation varieties are becoming ever more popular) and fillings or flavor additions (I like these; I guess I am not a purist).

When all is said and done, I love Lindt Excellence in its many manifestations: Intense Dark, Intense Pear, Intense Orange, Intense Mint, Intense Red Pepper, and the various filled bars (praline, mint, etc). Lindt is Swiss and the French are pretty snobby about non-French chocolate, but there it is.

I generally am not a huge fan of Michel Cluizel, but they have a great Dark Chocolate with Chocolate Nibs (grués) that I am working on at present, and it is super. Their one-plantation chocolates leave me a bit cold. I like some of Bonnat's one-plantation bars, especially "Madagascar" and "Trinité."

I don't like Valrona, finding it too sweet even when dark. Also, it's way too expensive, nearly double the price of Lindt.

I have not tried Green & Black, which is all over New York these days.

Cook's Illustrated did a survey of dark chocolate bars in January/February 2008 and reached entirely different conclusions. Their winners: Callebaut (which I've never seen), Ghirardelli, Dagoba, Michel Cluizel and Valrhona. Their "recommended with reservations" included my beloved Lindt along with Hersheys', Guittard, El Rey Mijao (Venezuela), Scharffen Berger, Nestle and Baker's. Go figure; this proves my point on how subjective this area is.

Cooking Chocolate

I use Callebaut (from Belgium) when I can find it, which is nearly always. It is delicious and reasonable (about $7 per pound) and comes in chocolate chips, which I prefer because I don't like chopping chocolate. I use the bittersweet, but the semi-sweet is good, too. I haven't tried the milk chocolate because I never use this.

If Callebaut is not available, gourmet stores (e.g. Fairway) will often have excellent South American varieties in various strengths. In a pinch, Ghirardelli dark chocolate bits are fine.

Again, I don't use Valrhona, which I find a bit too sweet and more than double the price of Callebaut.

And I never really seem to use baking chocolate (0% sugar) either.


As I mentioned earlier, this just barely scratches the surface of the subject of chocolate. I look forward to hearing from you. To comment, you don't need a gmail account. Just click on "Comment" below and check the third box (Name/URL) and put in your real name or nom de plume or internet address. If you are really shy, check Anonymous and submit your comment.

Bobby Jay


Caroline said...

Mes favoris, rapport qualité-prix sont les tablettes Côte d'Or et en particulier le "noir noisettes". Parfait pour un petit "treat". Et j'ai aussi une petite faiblesse pour les "after eight" rapport à mes souvenirs en Angleterre. Il ne faut surtout pas manquer le film
"Chocolat" pour les afficionados, à déguster le soir avec un verre du meilleur cognac et un carré de son chocolat favori. Si vous n'avez pas le film, une belle musique de tango fera l'affaire.

Suzette said...

so as mentioned over dinner, pierre marcolini leaves all else in the dust. paul and i must have spent a good hour in the paris storefront, sampling all of the goodies.