PARIS — If you adore chocolate as much as I do, imagine how utterly delectable it is to be amid 200 chocolate makers and chocolatiers all under one roof. At the Salon du Chocolat, there were, literally, tons of stunning bars, bonbons, barks, truffles, macarons, and chocolate filled, coated, and dusted pastries, cakes, and cookies.
Paris hosted its 27th Salon du Chocolat at the end of October, an annual event featuring cacao-growing countries, chocolate makers (who turn cacao beans into chocolate), chocolatiers and confectioners (who create all those precious bonbons and other confections), and pastry chefs from around the world.
I didn’t go to Paris just for the event, but what self-proclaimed chocolate lover would dare miss such a spectacle? Yes, there were samples. But most of the chocolates, pastries, and other sweets were for sale. Even if you purchased nothing (not a chance!), the visual and aromatic grandeur of all things chocolate on two huge convention floors was mesmerizing. And the eyes did not deceive. Most bites tasted as good or even better than they looked.
According to the organizers, the Salon du Chocolat in Paris is the world’s largest event dedicated to chocolate. It was canceled in 2020 due to COVID, but resumed on a small scale in 2021 and was back to almost full size this year. A festive exuberance seemed to grip both exhibitors and attendees. (Few face masks were worn.)
Twenty-one countries were represented, including Cote d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Uganda, Sao Tomé and Príncipe, Peru, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic. One trend I noticed among cacao-growing countries was that more of them are making their own chocolate and not just growing, harvesting, fermenting, and selling cacao beans to chocolate producers in other countries. These newer chocolate makers are proudly referring to themselves as “tree-to-bar,” one step more vertically integrated than the more common moniker “bean-to-bar.”
Peru grows cacao in 13 regions, yet a public relations representative said the country doesn’t yet have a culture of eating chocolate. Their goal is to get Peruvians to buy and eat more.
One of Madagascar’s intriguing chocolates was a 61 percent cacao bar made with the tropical citrus fruit combava and sea salt. In both 2017 and 2020, they won the British Golden Bean award for their 100 percent (unsweetened) cacao bars.
Climate change was on many minds as increasingly volatile weather and hotter temperatures are serious risks to cacao production. A representative from Madagascar said that in one of their growing regions, hurricanes and flooding destroyed 30 percent of their cacao trees a few years ago.
The majority of the 200 exhibitors were chocolatiers and other confectioners, including makers of tasty items like nougat, caramels, pates de fruits, ice cream, sauces, and spreads. Numerous patisseries, which use cocoa and/or chocolate in their cakes, biscuits (cookies), and tarts, offered exquisite pastries.
Only one US company participated this year: Manoa Chocolate, which crafts bean-to-bar chocolate on the island of Oahu. The amount of Hawaiian cacao production is still very small — only 20 percent of Manoa’s chocolate bars are made with Hawaiian cacao — but more trees are being planted every year.
The primary reason American companies weren’t in attendance was that the following week brings the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle. This event attracts dozens of US chocolate makers as well as some from other countries. (A few US pastry chefs participated in the Salon’s international competitions, including Mondial des Arts Sucres and World Chocolate Masters.)
As for new products or trends, there was more chocolate made with goat milk and nondairy milks, chocolate with CBD, chocolate with alcohol, greater use of spices, and increasingly wide cacao-percentage ranges for both dark and milk chocolates.
In France, chocolate is appreciated as both a specialty food and art form. The average household consumes about 13.2 kg (29 pounds) per year. The French eat more dark chocolate than their European neighbors, who generally prefer milk chocolate.
Almost every neighborhood in Paris has a chocolate shop. Some are old-fashioned with long histories, others are sleek and modern, and if your nose is pinched closed, you might think you were in a jewelry store. With a reserved elegance, chocolate bonbons, caramels, and pates de fruits beckon from subtly lit glass cases while gloved salespeople wait to fill boxes with your selections.
You might know some of the names: Jacques Genin, Alain Ducasse, Jean-Paul Hevin, Chocolat Bonnat, Patrick Roger, Cluizel. Edwart Chocolatier, A La Mere de Famille, and Debauve & Gallais. Their boutiques and others are as much a taste of Parisian life as fromageries (cheese), boulangeries (bakeries), boucheries (meat), and marchands de vin (wine).
Back at the Salon, woman-owned bean-to-bar maker Lady Merveilles from Vannes in Brittany makes over 30 different organic chocolate bars. Founder Marine Schmitt’s company motto is “Creative & Audacieuse” (creative and bold).
In southern France, Lucifeves d’Aubrac, a relatively new bean-to-bar maker, practices long roasting and short conching to retain more of the cacao’s floral and herbal aromas and flavors.
Thailand’s Siamaya Chocolate makes bars featuring regional flavors, such as Thai Peanut Curry, Mango & Chili, Thai Tea, and Coconut Milk. The company’s representative said they are just starting to market their products outside of Thailand.
One of my favorites — both the jolly chocolate maker and his beautiful bars — was Denmark’s Friis-Holm Chokolade. Over 20 years ago, Mikkel Friis-Holm spent months learning the science of chocolate making from Robert Steinberg, co-founder of Scharffen Berger in San Francisco. Friis-Holm started his company in 2008 and works mostly with Nicaraguan cacao. He experiments with cacao’s genetic material to create new varietals (just like grape varietals are to wine) and plays with fermentation techniques to affect the nuances of the final chocolate bars.
The Salon du Chocolat is a unique opportunity to meet some of the world’s best cacao producers, chocolate makers, and chocolatiers. If this sounds like your personal version of heaven, you might want to plan a trip to Paris for next year’s salon, scheduled for Oct. 28 to Nov. 1, 2023. Bring a wallet full of euros, a few empty canvas bags, and your appetite.
Lisa Zwirn can be reached at email@example.com.
Lisa Zwirn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.