I’ M at Melbourne’s Prahran Market tasting tiny portions of dark European-style chocolate truffles on the end of cocktail sticks at Monsieur Truffe’s stall in the main hall. Some are of 74 per cent singleorigin chocolate. Others contain a lower ratio of cocoa solids and are rolled in crushed nuts or flavoured with rosemary or fresh raspberries. They are M. Truffe’s bestsellers and I amcapable of consuming a whole box at a sitting. They are very different from the sweet and elaborately decorated ganache served in many new-wave chocolate shops across Australia.
Thibault Fregoni (pictured) is Monsieur Truffe. Originally a commercial photographer in Paris, he has been a self-taught pastry chef since working at a friend’s bakery in Sydney. He found himself drawn to the chocolate side and his new career was launched.
He concentrates on dark chocolate and is on a mission to educate Australia — which he says has a very sweet tooth — in the ways of the French.
‘‘ There are different ways of doing chocolate,’’ he says. ‘‘ The trend here is very much more the confectionery side of chocolate. People get distracted by the fact that there is a nice little square with a little flower on top and they don’t understand that what they are paying for is chocolate and sugar really.’’
Every country produces different styles of chocolate. The Swiss with their superb dairy products are leaders in milk chocolate. The Belgians are famous for their truffles. But the trend for singleorigin chocolate started in France, according to Fregoni, an artisan who creates chocolates by hand in a small commercial kitchen. In a makeshift bainmarie, chocolate is first tempered. This involves heating the chocolate to a specific temperature at which it will take on a particular, stable crystalline form.
Trays of ganache are marked out, ready to be divided into squares with a large knife. Fregoni then dips each piece into the tempered chocolate.
This week at Monsieur Truffe there is a classic truffle made of 58 per cent cocoa beans plus a 68 per cent single origin from Madagascar. When Fregoni works with fruit he uses couverture chocolate that will carry the flavour, the cocoa being less pronounced than in his plain truffles. ‘‘ It’s all subjective,’’ he says. ‘‘ I don’t play with artificial flavouring.’’
Sometimes things just don’t meet his high standards. ‘‘ For example, I have a chocolate from New Guinea and it has a very smoky aftertaste. When they harvest the beans they ferment them, but instead of drying them naturally in the sun, they do it over fires and the cocoa butter gets the smell.’’
Fregoni is also creating single-origin bars and now sells brands such as Valrhona. He says the trend towards single-origin chocolate started in the 1980s with a French company called Bonnat.
‘‘ It was the first one to select beans from a specific area and label it as such,’’ he says. ‘‘ Chocolate of origin will change (in flavour) every year because of the nature of the chocolate . . . They (Bonnat) will use the same plantation year after year.’’
The taste of the chocolate is influenced by many factors, including the soil and the microclimate. The closer the source is to the equator, the harder the cocoa butter, giving a ‘‘ better snap’’.
The debate about single-origin and blended chocolate is akin to that raging in the wine and whisky industries. Most good chocolate producers are now on the single-origin bandwagon: Valrhona in France, Callebaut and Felchlin in Switzerland and Italian chocolatiers Domori and Amedei, to name a few.
Monsieur Truffe’s customers love this development and linger to talk about the chocolates on offer. I’m at the end of a queue to taste this week’s selection. Call it slow chocolate, but it’s worth the wait. Prahran Market is open Tuesday and Saturday (dawn to 5pm); Thursday and Friday (dawn to 6pm); Sunday (10am to 3pm). Closed Mondays, Wednesdays and public holidays.