Belgian chocolate has something of an image problem.
A few years ago it was – in the minds of most British consumers – a synonym for excellence and the height of chocolate luxury. But times and tastes are changing and people are becoming more aware of what’s in their food and where it comes from.
Today, the phrase “Belgian Chocolate” is just as likely to evoke an image of a cheap, mass produced confection made in a large industrial factory. Most Belgian chocolate is produced by two of the biggest chocolate companies in the word. Barry Callebaut and Belcolade churn out thousands of tons chocolate made with the cheapest possible beans every day. It’s cheap to use, and the flavour reflects that.
But there are a new wave of chocolate makers and chocolatiers in Belgium who are determined to do things differently. Laurent Gerbaud is one of them, and we were lucky enough to spend an afternoon with him, tasting, making chocolates and sharing a delicious savoury chocolate lunch.
Gerbaud’s workshop and shop is located in Rue Ravenstein, a stone’s throw from Place de Grand Sablon, where many of Belgium’s chocolatiers have their shops. But rather than the traditional old fashioned chocolate shop Brussels is famous for, Gerbaud’s shop is bright and modern with a comfortable cafe area to sit and enjoy a hot chocolate.
Unlike most Belgian chocolatiers, Gerbaud primarily uses couverture chocolate Italy’s Domori.
Domori is one of the most expensive chocolates you can buy, but you really do get what you pay for. The difference in flavour between the chocolate Gerbaud uses and the cheap, bulk couverture some other chocolatiers use is night and day. That’s something we would discover in our chocolate tasting, but before we got to that, we had the chance to make some chocolates ourselves!
We were to make our own little chocolate mendiants to take home. Simple squares of chocolat, decorated with fruit & nuts.
We had an array of wonderful dried fruit & nuts to choose from and were working with Gerbaud’s house blend; a mix of Domori Madagascar, Ecuador and Peru origin chocolate. This is a chocolate with a full, well rounded and gently fruity flavour.
We took turns to fill our moulds with tempered chocolate, scrape the excess chocolate away and decorate each square with our own selection of fruit & nuts. But with only a couple of minutes to work with before the tempered chocolate sets, we had to work fast!
I was very happy with my results. They looked and tasted great and I only made a small mess!
After chocolate making, we turned our attention to a tasting. Laurent cleverly started us off tasting a low-end West African Forastero chocolate – the kind you might find in mass produced Belgian chocolates. The consensus in the room was that it was Ok, but not very interesting.
We then tasted a range of origin chocolate couvertures and some of Laurent’s own creations. They were all unique and wonderful in their own way, but the real eye-opener was coming back around to try the first (bulk) chocolate again. We all found it bitter, dry and unpleasant having tried the better chocolate. This was a great example of why it’s always a good idea to different chocolates at the same time. Not only does it allow you to make a direct comparison, but as long as you don’t overdo it, the palate becomes more receptive to the more subtle flavour notes after having tasted a few different chocolates.
Following our tasting, Laurent and his team prepared an amazing lunch. Each course was made with chocolate and some of the flavours we had used in our own creations.
My favourites were this fois gras with chocolate balasamic, pistachio and barberries, and the dessert; a wonderfully refreshing yuzu sorbet with orangette and more of that delicious Domori chocolate.
Our visit to Laurent Gerbaud was fun, educational and very, very tasty. It’s something I would recommend to any chocolate lover. For me, this experience alone would be enough to jump on a Eurostar and spend a day or two in Brussels.
Thanks to VisitFlanders for organising our trip to Brussels and making our afternoon with Laurent Gerbaud possible.
Laurent Gerbaud Chocolatier
2D Rue Ravenstein, 100 Bruxelles, Belgium
Tel: 0032 (0)2 511 1602
Open daily: 10:30am – 7:30pm. Groups & Workshops should be booked in advance.