Valrhona is a name I grew up hearing about, as my hometown Romans-sur-Isère was not far from their headquarters in Tain l’Hermitage (Drôme), an area better known for their Syrah wines, made by Chapoutier, Jaboulet et al. I knew at the time it was supposed to be a fine chocolate, but I wasn’t aware of their international reputation, which is pretty much that of being one of the best chocolates in the world.
This was soon rectified as I started working in the fine food industry, as well as when I watched the above documentary about Chocolate (“Les Toqués du Chocolat”), where one the characters was the “nose” of Valrhona, Sensory Analysis Manager Vanessa Lemoine, who, like an oenologue would do for wines, tastes and selects the best chocolates, teaches about chocolate, talks about chocolate… has the best job in the world really!
I finally realised the scale of the Valrhona operations when we followed the Australian Pastry Team to Singapore for the Asian Pastry Cup, the qualifying competition for the World Pastry Cup, both events sponsored and organised by Valrhona (as well as fruit purees producer Ravifruit, also Drôme-based). Those guys were not joking with chocolate and pastry.
Still, I didn’t expect such a high attendance for the Sydney launch of Valrhona’s new chocolate, Dulcey: about 120 people turned up at the Establishment last Wednesday to taste the product that promised a new dimension to chocolate.
We were welcomed with chocolate treats right off the bat: a duo of a Red Ball (strawberry coulis and white chocolate mousse) and a Chocolate Choux puff with crunchy caramel pearls, which were delicious and pretty much set the tone for the whole afternoon.
Pierre Tabarié, Valrhona Asia-Pacific Brand Manager, then welcomed the guests and talked about the Valrhona philosophy, which could be condensed in three words: “Passion, expertise and innovation”.
South-East Valrhona consultant, Singapore-based pastry chef Vincent Bourdin then introduced the new products (with no expense of dramatic music and lighting effects spared, it was quite impressive!)
He explained how Valrhona chocolates could be compared to the finest wines and his lexical field was indeed very similar, evoking “Grands crûs“, “Single origin“, “vintages” etc.
As in wine-making, the notion of “Terroir” is very important: the origin of the cocoa beans, whether from South America, Mexico or Africa will determine its taste and aromatic characteristics.
The fermentation process is also crucial to obtain good quality chocolate: Vincent explained that only 5% of cocoa beans in the world are properly fermented, the rest goes in “chocolatey-flavoured” products.
It was time for a bit of tasting, and Vincent first offered us Sour cherry & chocolate lollypops and Lemon chocolate tarts. Both were made with their Kalingo “Grand Crû”, a single-origin chocolate from Grenada Island (off Venezuela), which at 65% is quite intense and has a hint of peppery mint. (Even though Vincent said that the cocoa percentage doesn’t necessarily speak for the quality of a chocolate: if the chocolate is lousy from the start, a higher percentage will not make it better. It wasn’t the case here!)
Then the star product, the “4th dimension” after dark, milk and white chocolate, was finally unveiled: blonde chocolate Dulcey, a 32% chocolate, therefore technically white, but with a toasty and a bit caramely and buttery taste, with a hint of salt (calcium from the cooking process of the milk). It was created by Frédéric Bau, the creative director and executive chef of the pastry and chocolate cooking school “L’École du Grand Chocolat Valrhona”.
We were given this little Dulcey Mikado box containing Dulcey Earl Grey sticks, which to me were the highlight of the day, and Dulcey chocolate-coated almonds, which were also very addictive!
Another big hit were the Dulcey Coffee Cones: cones made out of Dulcey chocolate, filled with little chocolate shortbread cubes and topped with coffee ice-cream… I could have eaten a whole tray of them.
They were followed by little shots of Dulcey chocolate drinks, made with apricot puree and saffron, which went down very easily too.
Refreshments were then served, everyone mingled and I could hear pretty good feedback from the other guests, so it looks like the new Dulcey chocolate might have been well received!
Thank you Aurélie from Valrhona for inviting me, it was a delicious presentation!
PS: Found a nice post on “On the Cocoa Trail” blog about the similarities between wine and chocolate, very good!