Chocolate. No other food arouses the sumptuous cascade of delightful sensations that this one word evokes. Other foods may make you salivate, but chocolate reaches beyond your palate through your viscera down to your toes. And, for most people, this reaction arises from chocolate that is diluted with milk and flattened with the more two-dimensional pleasure of sugar. Such chocolate becomes mere candy. Great chocolate, unadulterated by milk, barely sweetened, is food, is medicine, is an end in itself, like all of life's true joys.
On the Left Bank of Paris, in a small shop that has been selling chocolates in the same storefront for over 200 years, the elegant and magical Debauve & Gallais, official chocolate maker to the Kings of France, practices the alchemy that earned them the right to place the Bourbon crest on their boxes. There you will find the chocolate of chocolates, the chocolate of kings and connoisseurs, past and present, the world over. Everything about Debauve & Gallais is incomparable: the shop itself, the service, the chocolates.
Their motto, Utile et Dulci, comes from a quote of Horatio about mixing 'the useful with the sweet' in life. The French understand that chocolate is a health food as well as a pure pleasure. Sulpice Debauve was a royal pharmacist whose forays into chocolate making were medicinal in purpose though not in taste.
Chocolate with almond milk as created by Sulpice Debauve was 'prescribed by doctors with great success for gastritis and ailments resulting from hot temper.' Gallais himself wrote, ' the orange flower chocolate, also known as the Ladies' chocolate, very useful when emotional shocks have disturbed the nervous system.' Modern life, being what it is, requires a ready supply of these natural medicines.
Not only can you still buy the 'coins' of chocolate with almond milk or orange flower water favored by Marie-Antoinette, you can enjoy other royal favorites and eat like a king. Or a tzar. I tried the coins of 99% chocolate that were favored by the Russian Tzars. My first reaction was to reject the unfamiliar bitterness. But a moment later, as the chocolate unfolded, I surrendered to the velvety flavors that rose in my mouth. By the time I finished the second one, I was a devotee.
French chocolate, without the added butter and cream of other chocolates, is not 'wet' feeling, but dry and cool. The rules for achieving the most enjoyment, laid down by the founder Debauve and explained on their website, still apply today:
MOOD - Tasting should be a moment of meditation, an opportunity to escape the stresses of daily life and renew our sense of true values. "It is important, above all, to take one's time and to make each moment of tasting a moment of eternity. Serene, surrounded by loved ones, with a calm spirit - allow yourself to become absorbed in the taste of the chocolate."
MOMENT - The ideal moment for tasting a dark chocolate bonbon is between meals. "The palate appreciates all best when its tasting ability isn't muddled by a pressing hunger or the saturation of the tastebuds following a large meal."
METHOD - Place a chocolate in the middle of your tongue. Chew slowly, several times. Let the chocolate linger for several seconds, during which time you may notice a warm sensation from the outer coating of cocoa as it melts on the tongue. The bonbon - still resting on the palate - then begins to withdraw into a blend of subtle aromas until finally it overwhelms the palate with all of the richness of its flavors.
If you want to enjoy the very same chocolates as Napoleon (croquemandes), Marie-Antoinette ( pistoles or coins of chocolates), Marcel Proust (truffles) or the Russian Tzars (99% cocoa), you can indulge yourself by going to the website and ordering.
If you live in or visit New York City, you can go to their recently opened shop there. High in cocoa and low in sugar, with no additives like lecithin, dyes or preservatives, even the simple tablets or 'coins' of solid chocolate are given artisanal care. The percentage of cocoa is inversely proportional to the sweetness, so you can choose according to the balance between your sweet tooth and your chocolate craving. But in the end you cannot go wrong, because everything there is the best.
GO TO THE DEBAUVE & GALLAIS WEBSITE
Debauve & Gallais
30, Rue des Saints-Peres
20 East 69th Street
New York, NY 10021