Pure-bred choco­late

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - Ed Charles

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.


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