Chocolate Cremè de la Cremè

Godiva, the incomparable Belgian chocolate maker, is closing every one of its retail shops in North America.  Maybe you’re blaming the pandemic but Godiva claims foot traffic at shopping malls – where most of its boutiques are located – “plummeted” over the last few years.  I’m sorry to see Godiva go.  Mind you, it’s not that I make a habit of buying $3 truffles.  It’s more the idea that I could if I wanted to.

Godiva is the cremè de la cremè of chocolate.  Their products are born of a family business dating back to 1926.  Their Truffe Originale, “an intense dark chocolate mousse in fine dark chocolate, rolled in pure cocoa powder”, is the standard by which most Belgian truffles are measured.  Godiva’s three chefs are profiled on its website (I discuss one of them in my post Confection Perfection), and endeavor to maintain the very high standards of Godiva while churning out new and different creations.  It’s no wonder Godiva isn’t considered a “candy store” or a “chocolate shop” but rather a chocolatier.  Only the very best get a label like that.

Godiva’s handcrafted “gold box” assortment

To me, Godiva chocolate is a taste of heaven on earth.  But it’s also a taste of a lifestyle – one most of us will never afford.  Godiva has me picturing mansions (not houses), yachts (not boats), private planes (not the middle seat in coach).  Godiva is a brief, delicious dip into the behind-the-gates world of the uber-wealthy.

I’ve stepped into a Godiva chocolatier exactly twice in my life.  The first was in college, after a visit to the Rizzoli bookstore at exclusive Water Tower Place in downtown Chicago.  After spending too much money at Rizzoli I was in the perfect mindset for Godiva (which was right next door).  I still remember selecting a single truffle from the glass display case.  The petit woman behind the counter wrapped up my tiny purchase in box, bow, and bag, as if I’d just purchased a fine piece of jewelry. She bid me a fond farewell.  I walked out of there feeling, well, special.

Would you pay $20 for six truffles?

My only other visit to Godiva was more recently with my wife and daughter, on a Saturday at one of Denver’s nicer shopping malls.  We’d just come out of Starbucks, coffees in hand, and there beckoned Godiva.  After much deliberation, we spent the better part of $10 and walked away with three truffles.  I’m sure they were elegantly wrapped.  I’m also sure they were delicious.  But with Godiva, it’s more about the taste of something beyond your means.  That taste may be more satisfying than Godiva chocolate itself.

Tiffany & Co, NYC

Tiffany is a comparable experience (as I wrote about in my post All That Glitters).  Walk past the front-door security guard into their multi-level department store in downtown Manhattan.  Your first thought will be either, “I don’t belong here”, or, “I’m underdressed”.  Ooh and ahh at their lavish necklaces, bracelets and rings, but don’t expect to see price tags.  Like Godiva, Tiffany’s best is behind glass and you have to ask a staff member about the cost.  My wife and I made it to Tiffany’s fifth floor before we found something we could afford – a pair of ceramic coffee mugs.  At least we also walked away with their signature blue gift boxes.

Think twice before entering!

Then there’s Prada, the Italian fashion house famous for its luxurious leather handbags and shoes.  My twelve-year-old daughter dragged me into their Madison Avenue boutique once (past the requisite security guard) but I realized our mistake as soon as we entered.  Prada displays maybe a dozen items in a single museum-like showroom, each carefully positioned on an individually lit shelf.  You are invited to sit on the central couch and offered a choice of beverage.  Then a person brings you items of your choosing (but don’t touch!).  Once I realized Prada purses start at $1,000, I asked my very disappointed daughter if maybe she’d like to go for ice cream instead.

Godiva’s tiny “biscuits”… $0.75 ea.

Godiva’s North America retail shops will be gone by March, but you’ll still have other options to purchase.  You can find small displays of their products at the cash registers of upscale department stores.  You can order most of their delicacies online (including “Gold Box” assortments, which cost more than you can afford).  You’ll even find Godiva’s “Signature Mini Bars” at lowly retailers like Target and Walgreen’s.  But let’s face it, Godiva is as much about the experience as it is the chocolate, and I’m just not gonna feel uber-rich when I’m at Target.

Some content sourced from the 1/24/2021 CNN.com article, “Godiva is closing or selling all of its stores in the United States”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Confection Perfection

While grocery shopping the other day, my wife asked me if I’d eat something containing “77% dark chocolate”. I replied casually, “No, my limit’s more like 72%”. To those in the know, the percentages refer to the cacao content; not the broader term “chocolate”. And that level of technical shows you how far I’ve come from the 3 Musketeers bar of my youth.

Each of us taps into our particular coping mechanisms as we deal with impacts of the pandemic. My wife spends countless hours playing brain games on her iPad. More of my neighbors take daily walks than I’ve ever seen before. Me? I’m getting lost in a few rainy-day projects, but more to the subject at hand, I’m tapping into my dark chocolate stash. There’s something therapeutic about a small square of the good stuff slowly dissolving on the tongue.  Dark chocolate is medication for troubled times.  It sates my soul.

I can’t recall when I graduated from “candy bar” to “chocolate bar”, let alone dark chocolate.  Like most kids of the 1970’s, I was drawn to Milky Way, Snickers, Nestle Crunch and the like, due to an annual dose of “fun-size” every Halloween.  But somewhere I had an epiphany and realized chocolate was pretty good all by itself. The clincher: studying abroad in Italy during college.  Overnight it seemed, I graduated from the products of Hershey’s and Mars to the more refined of Perugina and Ferrero. 

The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed Thierry Muret, the executive chef chocolatier at Godiva, and after reading the article I thought, “Now there’s a dream job”.  Not so fast, Mr. Goodbar.  Turns out Monsieur Muret is an industrial chemistry grad who leans heavily on his knowledge of science to create Godiva-worthy delicacies.  Muret’s all about “molecular gastronomy”, or decomposing/recomposing the very elements of chocolate to develop new textures and tastes.  Think about that the next time you bite into a Godiva truffle.

This much I know.  Chocolate’s most common varieties are “milk”, “dark”, and “white”, and while each contains cocoa butter, they’re better defined by their other ingredients (i.e. the dairy in “milk”).  My taste for dark chocolate evolved over a lot of years, the way my coffee matured from “instant” to “espresso”, and my wine from “Chardonnay” to “Cabernet”.  The basic versions simply don’t cut it anymore.

Thanks to Monsieur Muret, this much I don’t know about chocolate.  There’s a tight temperature range (65°-75° F) where fine chocolate can be “tempered” (shaped into truffles, etc.) without altering its delicate flavor.  There’s also a tight time frame to temper, because you don’t want the temperature to fluctuate more than a degree or two.  But Muret colors outside of the lines.  He throws temperature and time frame to the wind to concoct new textures and tastes.  He once spent an entire year perfecting a single ganache.  Whoa; that’s taking it to a whole new level.

The path to chocolatier typically goes through culinary school, not the chemistry lab.  You start with a pastry degree (pastry degree?) and then specialize in chocolate/confections.  Nope, not what I studied in college – not even close.  But I do deserve a “tasting degree” for my years of experience.

If the pandemic goes on long enough, I may find the shelves of our grocery store devoid of dark chocolate.  No problem: I’ll settle for a good ol’ 3 Musketeers bar instead.  Milk chocolate (not to mention the dose of childhood nostalgia) is a passable backup coping mechanism.

The so-called experts say there’s “no high-quality evidence that dark chocolate provides health benefits”.  With coping in mind, I couldn’t disagree more.

Some content sourced from the 2/7/2020 Wall Street Journal article, “Nothing Could Be Sweeter Than Being Godiva’s Top Chocolate Chef”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.