All countries have a famous culinary specialty. Italy has pasta, France has wine and Japan has sushi. Considering Belgium, many foods may come to mind. The nation is known for its decadent waffles, frites, beer and spéculoos. While these are all popular, no Belgian specialty gains more attention that its world-renowned chocolate.
There are different levels of dedication when it comes to producing one of the world’s most popular delicacies. There are the everyday shops with average products aimed at attracting tourists with novelty items and gift packages. These shops are more likely to mass produce chocolate treats without special concern that more dedicated chocolate makers show.
Other shops are more established with long traditions and histories of perfecting each type of chocolate they produce. These types of shops are notorious for creating treats that are unique to their own business. They also have a strong following of tourists, with many coming to the country specifically to see how they operate. There are also the large luxury brands such as Godiva
One explanation for the mastery of chocolate is the fact that much of the Belgian chocolate that earns the nation its reputation comes from those small shops and boutiques that make chocolate the old-fashioned way. Most are still made by hand which makes a significant difference in the quality of the chocolate produced.
Another theory is the fact that the country received a surplus of cacao bean from South American colonization in the 17th century and thus was able to experiment with various types of dark chocolate. This surplus and experimentation then led to expertise in creating dark chocolate. In comparison, their Swiss counterparts had better access to milk, but less to the cacao, and eventually created milk chocolate as their trademark.
In 1912 a Belgian by the name of Jean Neuhaus II changed the chocolate making industry for good with the concept of the praline. He had the idea of using a hard and slightly sweet chocolate mold to contain a softer sweeter nougat or cream filling available in a variety of flavors.
Belgian Chocolates long History
Belgium’s long history of confectionery innovation among its chefs and chocolatiers keeps its products among the best in the world. The country has been a large part of the chocolate making business for over 100 years, giving Belgian chocolate a quality and consistency unseen anywhere else.
This rich history cannot be overlooked when considering where the country’s advantage lies. In addition to its history, Belgian chocolate makers rely on a method for steady success in the form of superior industry training, exceptional ingredients and unique flavors. Per strict guidelines, any chocolate bearing the Belgian name must actually be produced within the country.
Another advantage comes from the method through which this chocolate is produced. During the chocolate making process, cacao beans are first ground fresh them mixed with cocoa butter and sugar. This mixture is smoothed through tempering, or slowly adding heat. The chocolate is then crafted from this fresh product.
Other chocolate companies receive their product in a solid form that must be melted down in order to use it. Because the variety made by Belgian chocolatiers undergoes no cooling process, it retains more of its natural flavors and aromas than the other forms. The Belgian method also helps the chocolate remain in better condition.
For many food experts and gourmet chocolate lovers, Belgian chocolate is the gold standard by which all other forms of chocolate confection are measured. Quality Belgian chocolate may be expensive, but once it’s tasted most people have a hard time reverting back to the standard candy bar chocolate. It is the kind of confection that is worth indulging in calorically and financially. Those who still wonder about its mystique must eventually test the chocolate to see if it lives up to its century-long reputation
Tim Capper brings countries culinary traditions to the world. Having studied in Switzerland i wanted to explore the two greatest Chocolate traditions starting with Belgium