Gourmand Guide

Michel Cluizel

It was 2016 when I really discovered Michel Cluizel – tasting the chocolates at home and then visiting the factory. While visiting, I asked Marc Cluizel if he sourced hazelnuts for his chocolate from Piedmont, as did many other manufacturers. He explained that if everyone used Piedmont hazelnuts (as they claimed), then Piedmont would have to be the size of Italy.
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In truth, the nuts could come from Turkey or other regions in Italy, but one thing is clear – they must be of the best quality. Yes, they have their own growers and suppliers, but if the nuts are not good one season, then they go to another supplier. Nothing is more important than quality. Quality and knowing where the products originate. Yet, quality is still the most important.

 

When we drove to the Michel Cluizel factory in Damville, Normandy on an early morning in June, the fields were still mystically blanketed with fog. The drive through the fields of wheat and other grains belied any existence of a factory. But the actual factory was located somewhere in the middle of these fields, in a beautiful location that smelled of Normandy, where butter is found in every food, chicken is basted in apple cider, and the locals are ready to sell their own mothers for an exquisite piece of cheese.

 

Somewhere in between there was a Michel Cluizel chocolate factory. Three generations of know-how. Everything is better than just good here. A walk through the factory, where they prepared one of my favourite chocolates, tested my inner strength and the child in me who wanted to steal that one bonbon.

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I remember how Marc spoke about chocolate with passion, telling about the cacao plantations and the farmers they work with. He could describe in detail each of the 1300 products made in this factory, always reminding us that nothing is as important as the base – the cacao bean plantations. Not all plantations are the same, something many of us do not realize.

You can’t make great chocolate from poor beans

I was most surprised by the fact that Michel Cluizel deals with the plantations and farmers without contracts. It appears that trust and good growing and harvesting habits are more important. Trust, respect, and understanding are paramount. It is cooperation that is vital to all parties involved. While the dried cacao beans are traveling to Damville, the factory does not sit idle.

 

Caramels are made, cherries infused with liquor, lemon and orange zests candied, speculoos cookies ground into paste, and everything else that will be placed on top of the chocolate is being prepared. The factory produces everything from start to finish – only in this way can the philosophy of Michel Cluizel be ensured in every chocolate.

 

The Cluizel family has been preparing chocolate since 1948; now the third generation has taken over. Marc Cluizel learned to roast cacao beans and discern the quality of chocolate in his mother’s womb.

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They use about 200 tons of cacao beans every year and Marc knows where each bean has come from
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Organic

Looking at the chocolates, there are only two that are organic and in a world where everything is all about the organic, that is not a large number, but there is a story behind this.

 

It is important in many ways that the practices are natural and sustainable with a no child labor policy. In plantations, the work collecting beans is very physical and hard and the idea is to help them and we can do that by giving a fair price for what they do. It is not that our chocolate is more expensive because we want that. It is beacause we pay a fair price to the families working in the plantations. We pay 8-12 times more than the price on the market. It also explains why we do not have to go to check them as this trust is mutual.

 

Price

If we talk about price, there are many more aspects to consider in addition to the price paid to families. The ingredient list of the chocolate is very clear – 4-5 ingredients, no soy, no lecithin, and no overpowered sugar as all this lowers the price because you do not have to add so many beans. These bars are all about cacao beans and their orgigin is not hidden behind a heavy dose of sugar. You feel the aroma, the exact aroma of terroir. Natural ingredients plus air price and know-how – that is what determines the price of the chocolate.

Although one might think that plantation chocolate is only for connoiseurs, it is not. Anyone can actually notice the difference. You can feel the citrus, vanilla, mango, and many more notes. Everyone who tries them, loves the chcoolates.

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