Wintertime is chocolate time! Many European countries have a long and extensive culture in making the finest products out of cocoa beans. From Spain to Austria, Switzerland to Belgium – all home to top chocolatiers. Here are some of our noted favourites.
1. Bachhalm. Outputting chocolates since 1928, today Johannes Bachhalm helms the eponymous company as Maître Chocolatier. Famed for combining traditional production techniques with innovative creations. Using the finest cocoa beans from Venezuela, Tanzania and Madagascar, they are roasted and carefully conched up to 72 hours before being sprinkled with fruits blossoms and spices.
Bachhalm buys their cocoa directly from the farmers, mainly Criollo, rather than cooperatives, ensuring they are correctly sorted. The father of his sister-in-law is Peruvian, and has been in the business of cocoa beans for some 40 years – which makes the purchasing easy for a chocolatier of highest reputation. He received numerous international awards for his Dark Mint Chocolate, flavoured with essence of peppermint and sprinkled with candied peppermint leaves.
2. Bonajuto. Sicily is not just famous for its strong wines, pistachio and great biscuits – chocolate is also part of this culinary universe. Traditional family-run company Bonajuto from Modica is big part of it, now in its sixth generation, they are famous for incredibly delicious chocolates. Founded in 1880, Bonajutos chocolates taste so authentic because of their production ‘al freddo’ – meaning the semi-ground cocoa and caster sugar is kept at a temperature that prevents the sugar crystals from melting, resulting in strong aromas and a powerful taste.
The ‘dolce’, made of cacao beans from Sao Tomé, exists in 17 different flavours the ever popular vanilla, cinnamon and cardamom among them. Pierpaolo Ruta, the young patron of today, is particularly proud of the ‘Salinae’, and 80 percent dark chocolate made with salt di Mothya.
3. Confiseur Läderach. Naturally, a Swiss address is bound to be among the best chocolate creators. Läderach, founded in 1962, lies in the heart of the Glarus Alps, a family-run operation now in its second generation, offering a wide range of handcrafted pralines, truffles, confectionery and freshly made chocolate. A high-tech chocolate liquor production facility makes this possible. Lovers of the dark delicacy should visit the ‘Schoggi-Erlebnis’ in the heart of Zurich, Bern and Bilten. In its Chocolate boutiques the fine art of working with the cocoa mass is demonstrated.
Also unique to their collection is a vast range of ‘FrischSchoggi’ (fresh chocolate), with delectable flavours such as pepper-strawberry, orange-almond, confetti and many more.
4. Oriol Balaguer. One of the smartest towns in Spain is also home of their finest chocolate houses: Oriol Balaguer of Barcelona. Born in 1971, he is a shooting star among European chocolatiers. Shortly after attending the Confectionary Trade School of Barcelona, followed by the best patisseries in Spain and Belgium, he founded his own brand. Innovative aesthetics lead to such treats as the much celebrated egg collection: consisting of remarkable sculptures not unlike modern art.
His creations are a symbiosis between confectionary preparation and cooking. Sublime, sometimes unusual aromas contribute to this renown – such as yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit), violet with cassis, saffron, pop-rocks and corn nuts. Exquisite boutiques as far afield as Japan offer his delicious wares.
5. Valrohna. The history of chocolate maker Valrhona dates as far back as 1922, a long time during which their chocolate couverture has garnered global acclaim. Supplied to Head Chefs worldwide, it is as excellent as their confectionery. The ‘Grands Crus de Terroir’ are dark, composed creations, some as limited editions featuring certain cocoa plantations e.g. Loma Sotavento.
The newest creation is a ‘blond’ chocolate called Dulcey. Frédéric Bau, founder of Valrohna’s Ecole du Grand Chocolat, is most proud of his chocolat de luxe: with a flavour of Breton shortbread, caramelised milk and unrefined sugar.