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The Rise And Fall Of The Chocolate Connoisseur

Aug 18, 2007
The French have always enjoyed an enviable reputation for their love of gourmet food and their pride in turning premium quality ingredients into delectable, indulgent pleasures for the palate. From fine wines to foie gras, champagne to cheese, French gastronomy is synonymous with excellence.

So to food connoisseurs it comes as no surprise that the best chocolate in the world is made in France. Visit any French city to find an astounding array of chocolateries, each offering tantalising chocolates displayed like fine jewels.

Not a sign of a mass-produced, sugar rush-inducing candy anywhere; just exquisite, handmade French chocolates created by second, third, even fourth generation chocolatiers, who practise their artisanal skills with a dedication bordering on obsession. That's the French for you.

Britain, on the other hand, although calling itself a nation of chocolate-lovers - only started to show an interest in luxury chocolate in the mid-80s. But despite our slow start, consumer trends over the past five years have shown that we're undergoing something of a revolution in the way we choose to indulge our chocolate passion, and the gourmet sector is now the fastest growing within the chocolate market.

Largely driven by increased media interest in the health benefits that can be derived from regular consumption of high quality, dark chocolate, discerning British palates are now seeking to delight their tastebuds with new and exciting chocolate recipes made from pure, healthy ingredients.

In response to the growing number of Britain's chocolate connoisseurs, Frenchman Pierre Soualah opened a Provence-inspired chocolate boutique in Birmingham in 2002. This unique approach to French chocolate has earned a reputation for its refined style and Pierre's infinite enthusiasm to enlighten the British palate with his unique range of handmade French chocolates.

Trained as a traiteur at Fauchon in Paris and Selfridges in London, Pierre has a devotion to French gastronomy that would make his fellow countrymen proud. "My desire was to bring a little piece of France to the UK", says Pierre. "I had been living here for 10 years, and couldn't find handmade French chocolates anywhere, so I decided to make my own."

Together with his artisan chocolatier, Pierre created a distinctive assortment of intensely-flavoured chocolates to challenge the palate of any discerning chocolate enthusiast. "We were determined to use only the finest cocoa beans and noble ingredients such as cocoa butter and pure vanilla, blended with infusions such as cassis, aniseed, bergamot and hops to complement our soft ganaches and pralines perfectly", says Pierre, adding that his recipes change according to the season, with the addition of fresh tastes and delicate aromas.

With the rise in personal disposable income and increased interest in quality food products, the luxury chocolates sector is expected to continue to flourish. Indeed, it is the only sector of the confectionery market to show notable growth in recent years, resulting in a number of mass manufacturers such as Cadbury acquiring smaller brands such as Green & Black's in order to gain a foothold on the luxury sector's ladder. Although this may be considered a shrewd move on Cadbury's part, it's also a tall order, as savvy consumers know their artisans from their elbows.

Within the luxury chocolate sector its the so-called 'super-premium' niche - comprising the most luxurious, independent brands and specialist products - that's attracting the most highly-sophisticated consumers, who put quality and provenance before price.

Pierre Soualah confirms that the interest in super-premium chocolate is being driven by those customers with refined tastes, adding that British demand for his luxury French chocolates has far exceeded his initial expectations. "With the opening of Eurostar, travel to France has become even easier, and many British people have eagerly embraced French gastronomy", says Pierre. "A lot of my customers tell me how pleased they were to find handmade French chocolates in the UK because they are the finest money can buy."

Familiar French arrogance on Pierre's part? Perhaps. But going by recent trends, it would appear that the growing number of Brits seeking to indulge in the gastronomic experience offered by handmade French chocolate would agree with him.
About the Author
Shaun Parker has been involved with french chocolates for the last 5 years. To find out more, visit http://www.chouchoute.co.uk
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