The freshness, the acidity and the effervescence of one, the sugar and the bitterness of the other: here is a food-pairing which on paper does not really match. It is even listed among the dishes not to be paired with Champagne by the CIVC.
To create an harmony with cocoa products, most of the time the suggestion is heading for a natural sweet wine like a Maury, a Sauterne or even a slightly tannic red wine to highlight the complexity of cocoa. The bitterness the latter is usually too powerful for the subtlety of champagne. Therefore, when the chocolate impregnates too much the palate, it becomes impossible to distinguish the delicate tones of the wine. On the other hand, if champagne dominates chocolate, this one disappears behind the wine. Therefore, it is necessary to find a perfect balance between the delicacy of the chocolate and the acidity of the champagne, so both merge in an elegant harmony. It is a game of balance, since the match is risky. So, if you want to succeed : abandon traditional codes !
To understand if the balance is possible, we met with Emmanuel Briet, a master chocolate maker located in Épernay…
“Love chocolate thoroughly, without complexes or false shame, because remember: “Without a touch of madness, there is no reasonable man.» ”
François, duc de La Rochefoucauld
One is acidic, the other is bitter. Champagne and chocolate, old protagonists of dangerous relationships, now make a daring partner, served as dessert in some chic restaurants. But to understand those rather unusual parings, it is necessary to learn a bit more about the art of chocolate.
Emmanuel Briet – A premium chocolate maker
Let’s start with your professional path. What led you to the world of chocolate and where does your passion come from ?
« Quite young, I already knew I was interested in the catering trade world. Therefore, I went to Belgium for my studies where the schools make it possible to see all of the different professions in the sector. It also allowed me to discover related professions, such as confectionery and chocolate maker. During 4 years, I had the opportunity each year to carry out internships, experiences that enabled me to refine my choice and quickly I fell in love with the chocolate world. That’s when the penny dropped.
Afterwards, I begin again the whole chocolate course in France : first, a chocolate maker CAP – professional qualification – in the north and a BTM – trade vocational training certificate – in Paris. Following this specialization, I was lucky enough to join a famous and prestigious Parisian House – Michel Chaudun – where the chef left a year later my arrival. Therefore, he trained me before his departure, after which he left me the chef position. I held the job there for 4 years. Simultaneously, I passed my master’s certificate, which allowed me to become a master craftsman. I then learned a lot in terms of quality and after 5 years, I had only one thing in mind : working in the chocolate domain and settling up, starting a business. It was Mr. Chaudun who gave me this desire and anyhow, we were working on very qualitative bases and I did not see how I could work otherwise – there are very few people who speak quality and who make quality. I never imagined of taking a backward step on quality approach after my experience in a premium House like Michel Chaudun.
Today, I have been settled in Épernay for eleven years now and it has been going perfectly well. Our boutique has expanded its reputation throughout the Sparnatian Basin, but developed a clientele coming from even further. This is the result of our work on quality : the more you craft products of excellence, the more people come from afar for your chocolates. This even led us to export to Japan and the Emirates. Today, we wouldn’t leave Épernay for anything at all.”
Tell us more about the Maison Briet philosophy :
“It’s very simple. Craftsmen usually have the same speech – but unfortunately it is not always applied 100%. Our philosophy is to find the best of the products !
We work with blocks of chocolate – from the bean to the blocks, there is the work of specialists called couverturiers. At Emmanuel Briet, we choose our chocolates couverture just like a cellar master in Champagne would choose his juice and then his vins clairs. Therefore, there are choices to make : for us the choice inclined logically towards quality : the best cru of cocoa, combined with the best and noblest of raw materials.
Let’s take the ganache for example : of course the quality of chocolate matters, but quickly you also have the quality of the cream and the butter used stepping in. For these two products, we have chosen to work with Échiré – a company based in Deux -Sèvres, Charentes-Poitou Appellation – which makes exceptional butter and cream. They are also present in Japan, and people are lining up to buy their products there.
For each raw material used, we always choose the best and then we work altering this quality as little as possible to transcribe tastes as best as possible – always with the greatest respect for the raw material. For each product, we think about what we can do to keep intact the quality. Regarding the dried fruits for example : for each harvest, we take the new crop and we store it in negative cold. This process prevents the dry fruits, like the nut, from deteriorating and it makes it possible to make nut chocolate all year round with the same respect for quality. The negative cold with the vacuum preserves very well the quality of the dried fruit.
It is the same thing for raspberries : we work with Thibaut Guillaume, in Revigny-sur-Ornain. His objective is to have fruits with taste. Therefore, he harvests raspberries at perfect maturity. They are picked from 5 a.m. and arrive at our place at 8 a.m. The same day, we stay in the lab until everything is in the juice form and stored in negative cold : the raspberries are smashed with 10% sugar and the juice is passed through a sieve or a centrifuge to be then portioned in negative cold.”
Know how to recognize good chocolate
“First of all, a good chocolate is a chocolate that is neither too sweet, nor too bitter. Frequently, lower-end chocolates have more sugar since this ingredient is cheaper than chocolate. When the chocolate is too sweet, it is already a sign that the maker don’t want to spent too much on the product. As for the bitterness, it hides the lack of taste of chocolate due to low quality beans. The objective is then to have a long finish, but since there is no taste, it is by bringing bitterness – unfortunately not on what is most noble in chocolate. The balance between bitterness and sugar is therefore very important!
Then there are defects like the finesse of the chocolate. When the chocolate melt between the palate and the tongue, no grains should be felt. Indeed, the quality of the grinding and conching of the cocoa beans enables the cocoa to express itself : the grinding smooths down the cocoa while the conching is a stage where the chocolate is mixed for 50 to 72 hours to refine the chocolate and enables to develop its aromas. When the conching is of high quality, there is no longer grains on the palate. Usually, chocolates from supermarket are made from lower-end cocoas which are conched very little time – 6 to 8h – as it is an expensive stage in the chocolate making process. At the end, the chocolate is not refined and have no length.
Quality chocolate starts with quality beans. Then, what matters is the work at the plantations with a fermentation perfectly controlled and stabilized. Once you have quality beans, both stages – grinding and conching – should be long enough to allow the chocolate to develop all its aromas. Then you have a fine chocolate. Consequently, it also means that quality has its price. Unfortunately, there is no mystery : it takes time to get excellence. The problem today in the craft trades is that the craftsman sometimes does not want to take the time or to pay the price to have a fine product and it is the best way to start off on the wrong foot.
At Le Chocolat d’Emmanuel Briet, we choose chocolate with at least 50 hours of conching. Then, we blend origins and typicities of cocoa. This base of raw material is very important for us. For that matter, we work with not less than fifteen different kinds of chocolate for our blends – just like the cellar master who has to choose between the juices and the vins clairs. Depending on what we are going to do, we are be able to blend a pure Peru with a pure Tanzania for example … In any cases, we always work in harmony with the ingredient paired with the chocolate – the basil, the raspberry… One thing to know : there is no preservative in our chocolates. When infusing basil, for example, we take great care to respect the infusion time so it takes sufficient taste without gaining bitterness. But, you can either make a cold brew or a hot brew, the techniques are specific to each. At Emmanuel Briet House, when we make a basil ganache there must be a balance : a beautiful presence of chocolate and a beautiful presence of basil. Once this balance is found, we always follow the same recipe.
There is also a lot of work done to respect temperatures : a ganache will not have the same texture depending on whether it is poured at 39 ° or 34 ° C. Therefore, there is a respect of the recipe, the making processes, the infusion time and cooking. Once the ganache is poured, for example, it’s already been one day. Following which we leave it to rest and we chop it. There is then, another day passing afterwards, as the chocolate is not coated until the third day to let the ganache shrink, stabilize and bring out the excess moisture. Only after, it is possible to coat it. It is this patience that enables the customer to keep his chocolates for 3 weeks. In fact, it is 5 weeks without the ganache becoming moldy : 1 week in the store, 3 weeks for the customer and 1 week of available time. If times are not respected and the coating is done the same day, the chocolate will mold after a week with the air. It is possible to cheat by adding preservatives of course. But once again, there is no preservatives in Emmanuel Briet chocolates. Our ganaches stabilize themselves and we preserve the natural taste of our products.”
Chocolate and Champagne, an impossible food-pairing – so they say !
Why is chocolate so difficult to pair with champagne?
“Once again a good chocolate is a chocolate that is neither too sweet, nor too bitter. If the stage is not set for the pairing that’s a bad start : any champagne with any chocolate is unlikely to work ! Also due to the poor quality of some chocolates, with a long finish but on bitterness. Unfortunately, there are people saying they do not like dark chocolate, when in reality they do not like bitterness. Therefore, laying the groundwork for a pairing is first of all choosing a quality chocolate. The harmony will already be easier.
The same goes for champagne : if the cuvée is the first one that comes, the pairing may be complicated. For example, take a beautiful champagne, with a long finish with butter notes. It already offers a very good base to create harmonies. Through the buttery, fine and full-bodied side, we are already getting close to the chocolate spirit ! On the other hand, a champagne on acidity and a too bitter chocolate : it is going to be inevitably very complicated ! However, a quality champagne on taste paired with a quality chocolate : it is here much easier to find the central theme – it can be citrus, butter, honey notes…
Regarding the rosé champagnes, needless to say it is the fruity character that is going to stand out. Therefore, the direction could be on a chocolate with raspberry or passion notes for example. There are for sure easy options. This is actually all the work some sommeliers in restaurants in Champagne do, and they do it very well ! They must thus be able to offer tourists meals only served with champagnes, including chocolate-based dishes.”
“Ten years ago I was told ‘champagne and chocolate, unthinkable’,
How to create a balanced champagne and chocolate harmony ?
“We have to find a central theme. Like when we make our recipes : if we make a chocolate with 5 peppers for example, we are going to get a cocoa with peppery and spicy notes. If you make a chocolate with basil, you choose a cocoa with herbaceous notes. This common thread will work for all chocolates.
Regarding champagne, for example, if we have a cuvée on citrus fruits – some Blanc de Blancs are particularly marked on this typology – we can choose to pair it with lemon or orange chocolate. In any case, for the supposedly difficult chocolate and champagne harmonies, it is important to first prepare the work – again the chocolate should not be too bitter nor too sweet. We will also avoid too acid champagnes. The easy option would be to choose on a champagne of about ten years : much rounder and therefore easy to pair with chocolate. With a young champagne, it’s going to be much more complicated as it would require a chocolate softening the champagne, which means a chocolate deliberately too sweet or with little bitterness, even none. “
What is the secret of a good champagne-chocolate pairing ?
First of all, for all champagne and chocolate harmony, start by tasting the champagne you wish to pair. Prefer a champagne not too young. Then, try to make a tasting comment on what you feel : citrus, spicy, honey or dried fruit notes ? Depending on what direction you are headed for, we will then choose the chocolates and try.
On pure origins chocolates, you have different notes : notes of black fruit for Peru, acidulous character with red fruit and passion fruit notes for the Ambaja 64% – Madagascar terroir. We can thus choose several champagnes, taste them, remove those which will not match : not enough marked tastes, too present acidity, … With the ones remaining, we taste again and we choose what direction to take. It is as simple as that !”
After this immersive and mouthwatering interview, there is only one thing to do : to put into practice and to taste as the craftsman, Emmanuel Briet explained. And don’t forget : if you want to succeed, abandon traditional codes and have fun !