The Salon du Chocolat, founded in Paris by the aptly named Sylvie Douce and François Jeantet, has a mission that few right-minded people would quarrel with: to promote the understanding and enjoyment of chocolate. Since its first Paris manifestation 18 years ago, countless other editions have been staged in 21 different cities worldwide, from New York to Tokyo to Moscow to Shanghai. It’s a magnificent show, wherever it happens. Each one has its own indigenous flavor and character.
One of the venues for the Salon du Chocolat is Switzerland. This, remember, is the land of Rodolphe Lindt, inventor of the conching process, which involves patient heating and repeated rolling of the cocoa mass to smooth away the gritty particles naturally present. It was here, too, that Daniel Peter, together with his friend and colleague Henry Nestlé, produced the first solid milk chocolate bars that would keep without spoilage. And then, of course, the Swiss are the acknowledged world champion chocolate-scoffers, putting away an impressive 12 kilos (close to 27 pounds) per person per year.
Perhaps the only surprise about Switzerland’s Salon du Chocolat is that it took until 2012 for the first show to be staged in Zurich. The 2013 edition recently closed its doors after three exhausting, exhilarating days starring a cast of about 90 chocolatiers, pastry chefs and chocolate experts from all over the world. “This year’s Salon was another sweet success,” enthuses Kerrin Rousset, a chocolate and confectionery connoisseur based in Zurich and responsible for working with the Salon team in Paris to come up with the program of events for the Swiss show.
From fashion to food, Salon du Chocolat is all things chocolate
Stunning new chocolate creations were presented to (and enthusiastically sampled by) the public. Sylph-like models in chocolate-trimmed designer gowns paraded nonchalantly up and down the catwalk. Chocolatiers and pastry chefs from boutiques and top restaurant kitchens demonstrated in Choco Démo, including Swiss Chocolate Masters David Pasquiet and Claudia Schmid. Conferences in the chocosphere filled up quickly, with the public eager to learn about pairing chocolate with wine, whiskey or even with beer, or to debate issues such as the sourcing and sustainability of cacao.
Any Salon du Chocolat, wherever it takes place, provides an opportunity to apply a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the chocolate world, so I was delighted to do my bit to find out what’s new. Among the many developments visible (and tastable), my favorite — speaking here more as a cook than a chocolatière/pastry chef — is the growing trend for salt in chocolate.
Of course, the salty-sweet dimension is hardly novel. The Bretons have used crunchy demi-sel butter in candy forever, and sweet Scottish shortbread is pleasingly seasoned with salt. Nowadays any self-respecting chocolatier seems to have a salt-speckled chocolate in his/her range. Even Toblerone has joined the game, with a sky-blue packaged bar whose familiar toasted almonds are tossed in crunchy salt crystals. Repeatedly at the salon, I was struck by the degree to which salt — provided it’s added with enormous care and in the right quantity — can enhance fine chocolate, allowing complex flavors to bloom while adding a piquant counterpoint to balance sweetness plus an element of crunch. Two stars for me were Beschle of Basel’s 64% dark chocolate with fleur de sel and pistachios, and their startlingly good Lassi, a white chocolate lifted by the addition of yogurt, lime and a whisper of salt.
Nibbling my way around the Salon, I made a few more discoveries. The first was there’s nothing quite like a chocolate bar (as opposed to truffles, pralines or other composite delights) for getting the full chocolate hit. Every one of the top chocolatiers present displayed positive libraries of bars — square, round, rectangular, large, medium or bite-sized, and all packaged to within an inch of their lives.
Another revelation was that milk chocolate should not be scorned. Chocolate snobs (I have to admit I’m probably one) generally favor the dark varieties and play one-upmanship games on cacao percentages, the higher the better. That was until I discovered Alpenmilch by celebrated Zurich chocolatier Honold — sinfully smooth and seriously chocolatey, amazing depth of flavor with marked toffee notes, a reminder that Switzerland is the Heimat of milk chocolate. (“High as the Alps in flavor” was the proud marketing slogan for Daniel Peter’s original Gala milk chocolate).
And for one who also has been know to purse lips at the very suggestion of flavored chocolates, I made short work of Honold’s dark (65%) Venezuelan Criollo, dusted with a discreet shower of strawberry flakes and crushed pink peppercorns. Not to mention anything from the newly established, Budapest-based ChocoMe, which makes big, bold, beautifully packaged bars bulging with fruit, nuts and spices.
Salon du Chocolat calendar for 2013
Salvador de Bahia: July 6-8
Paris (professional): Oct. 28-30
Paris (open to the public): Oct. 30-Nov. 3
Lyon, France: Nov. 8-11
Cannes, France: Nov. 22-24
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Final mention of another important trend in the choco-world: The increasing interest in where and how chocolate is sourced — “from bean to bar” is the buzz phrase. The same kind of thing that happened with Terra Madre and Slow Food’s Salone del Gusto is taking place within the Salon du Chocolat: Terra Madre, once a colorful sideshow representing grower-producers from the Third World, is now an integral part of the Salone del Gusto. In just the same way, the Salon is broadening its focus beyond the pure hedonistic pleasure of chocolate to embrace pressing themes like transparent sourcing, conservation, sustainability and equitable work practices.
Original Beans (Amsterdam) and Idilio Origins (Basel), present at the Zurich Salon, are widely admired for their ethical business model and emphasis on sustainability. Each sets up long-term contracts with individual cacao growers not only in traditional grower countries like Ecuador and Venezuela but also, in the case of Original Beans, in the war-torn Congo, which has no history as a cacao producer. They pay significantly above fair-trade rates and focus on single-origin chocolate, emphasizing not only on the cacao type (Criollo is king) but also the terroir in which it is grown.
The Salon du Chocolat provides a fabulous showcase not just for the finest chocolate but also for the latest trends. The good news is there’s one coming soon to a city near you.
Top photo: Alpenmilch chocolate bars. Credit: Sue Style