It’s Getting Closer to Chocolate Time

Lorge Chocolate Easter Egg With apologies to everyone who has given up chocolates for Lent, I must say that I’ve been in a bit of a chocolate haze today. Not only have I been making  chocolate hearts for Mother’s Day, but we’ve received our yearly Easter delivery from Benoit Lorge for the shops.

Another Lorge Chocolate EggThey look great as usual (and you should know that they are filled with his delicious truffles). He’s also added a chocolate bunny to go with his chocolate hen.

If you don’t know his chocolates, seek them out! They are fantastic.

Seeing them, I’m kind of inspired. Maybe we’ll make some ice cream Easter Eggs again this year…

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Are we really that expensive?

noka Since I’ve come back from Tokyo, I’ve been digesting what I experienced and thinking a lot about the huge range of premium food products on offer there. It was actually quite a shock in that for all of the wealth generated during the Celtic Tiger, we really don’t have super-premium-priced food here, outside of a few restaurants. Perhaps that is because we obsessed about prices non-stop during the good times, talking about “Rip-off Ireland,” and fuming if things weren’t cheap (except houses and salaries). Food seemed to bear the brunt of this, which is ironic, since Ireland simply can’t produce cheap food products – at least not compared to Poland, Germany, Argentina, etc., where the economies of scale are much larger and the costs much lower.

What few people seem to realise is that the prices of the best Irish cheeses, meats, etc., are actually quite low if you look at what super premium products such as those would cost in the US, France, Italy or the UK. In Japan, it’s a whole different level. From sushi to fruit to chocolate, there are so many different levels of price and quality that your head would spin.

noka2Although you can buy chocolate in a convenience store for similar prices to here, you also have Aoki charging €12+ for a bar, or Noka, where a box of four tiny chocolates retailed for more than €20 (in the US it’s less, but still expensive). There are no Irish chocolatiers charging anything remotely similar. With oranges, you can buy normal priced oranges in Tokyo, and they go up from there, to about €15/orange. Of course there are also the €100+ melons (mostly given as gifts), and I paid €7 for a scoop of ice cream.

Now most Irish people would say – “€15 for an orange? What an absolute rip-off!” I, on the other hand, would wonder – “What makes an orange so good that it’s worth €15? I’d better taste it!” Most importantly, there are clearly people out there who would pay it. Yet, we certainly don’t have fruit at those prices.

The reason I’m writing this post is that tonight, at the checkout of my local supermarket, I was given a snide comment about the price I was paying for a piece of Gubbeen cheese, and it made me very angry. Are we all expected to buy the cheapest chedder on the market? I hardly drink, don’t frequent the bookie, and I don’t own a nice car or a holiday home. Even if I did, why shouldn’t I spend money on a good Irish cheese if I want to? I love cheese, I’m supporting an Irish producer making a quality product, and the truth is I’d pay even more.

I know that especially now that the economy is in tailspin, there are many people who cannot afford high priced products. However, to assume that there isn’t a place for an expensive cheese (or ice cream for that matter) that cheers us up and makes us feel good is pure ignorance. It would be great if more of us could appreciate, as the Japanese do, that a piece of sublime food, no matter what the cost, when it is produced, prepared, and served with love, is sometimes the very thing that can make bad times palatable.

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Salon du Chocolat

chocolate2 Sometimes life is full of serendipity, and happening to be in Tokyo during Salon du Chocolat is a very happy coincidence indeed.

chocolateIt seems that the “wakai josei,” or young Japanese women, are in the habit of buying chocolate for male friends, fiances, husbands and bosses during this time of year as a harbinger of happiness. (Irish woman please note – this is a very good idea!)

Actually, a Japanese friend here said that most Japanese men don’t like chocolate at all and that their sisters and mothers usually end up with the treats. That is a shame!

caoki1Many European chocolatiers are here, including Marcolini, Herme, Neuhaus, etc., and a number of Japanese ones as well. 

We managed to meet Sadaharu Aoki, and my mother even got him to sign a box of chocolates for her.

I might have to go back tomorrow. Happy days for a chocoholic!

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Don’t Forget Chocolate!

chocwine If reducing your chocolate intake was part of your New Year’s Resolutions (ah, horror!), you might think again.

Two recent studies add to the numerous benefits found from this miraculous substance. The first, from Oxford University, found that dark chocolate (along with tea and red wine) boosts memory. In fact, the three taken together had the most pronounced effect. You can read more about it here, and it might set a new culinary trend. Chocolate and red wine tastings have become increasingly common, but adding tea into the mix certainly could make things interesting.

The second study, researched by the University of Copenhagen, found that dark chocolate reduces appetite (at least compared to milk chocolate) to the tune of a 15% calorie reduction. It seems that you can have your dark chocolate and eat it too.

So, there are two more reasons for me to make 2009 the Year of Chocolate (like 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, etc. etc.). Things are looking up already.

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Best Chocolate Ever?

 We’ve gotten our hands on the newest chocolate by Valrhona Coeur de Guanaja, and the results of our first tests have been astonishing. This 80% chocolate has higher cocoa mass and less cocoa butter than normal chocolate, which makes it possible to get more chocolate taste in ice creams, pastries, and other applications. It’s not cheap (understatement), but it sure tastes fabulous in ice cream.

In fact, our first test batch amazed everybody here – silky, extra strong chocolate hit, and decadent consistency. I’d have posted a photo of the ice cream, but I’m afraid we gobbled it all down before I could do so…

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Lorge Chocolates in Killarney

 I’m delighted to announce that we now have a mini Lorge chocolate shop in our Killarney Dessert House

For those of you lucky enough to have visited Benoit Lorge’s shop on the road from Kenmare to Bantry or found his chocolates elsewhere, you’ll know how happy I am. 

We’ve had Lorge Chocolates in our shops in a small way, but over the Christmas season we will have a much wider range as well as a delicious selection of loose truffles for mixing and matching or devouring with a coffee.

For the holiday season, Benoit has made chocolate Santas, snowmen, and best (and most random) of all, he has chocolate boots and shoes filled with truffles. We also have his chocolate bars and award-winning nougat.

There’s usually not much chocolate on offer in Killarney, but that’s definitely changed. Not only do we have Lorge, but we still have our own chocolates, Valrhona bars, and a selection from other Irish artisan producers…

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Study Time

 With my Christmas present already here, I’ve been doing some studying to make the most of it.

I have bought two books, and I think either would make a great gift if you have a chocoholic in your life (or something to add to your wish list if you are one). The first is Chocolates and Confections, by Peter Greweling, which is more technical, and Making Fine Chocolates by Andrew Shotts.

From what I’ve read so far, either one has a lot of information, interesting recipes, and good tips for making chocolates.

The only problem is that the books might prove very popular and hard to keep to one’s self (see photo right)!

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All I want for Christmas…

 I certainly have the toy I want for Christmas, and it’s not even December. That photo above is our brand new chocolate tempering machine. It’s a chocoholic’s dream.

The machine takes the bother out of tempering chocolate so that you can melt and form chocolate that it is glossy and has a good snap. It’s possible to temper by hand, but this is much easier.

Needless to say, there’s lots we can do with tempered chocolate, from decorations for ice cream cakes to making our own chocolate chips.

I must run now, the chocolate is melting!

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