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February 23, 2009
While I enjoy the occasional film noir, I much prefer a steady diet of chocolat noir. For that, there’s no better place to be than in Bruges.
Amid the quaint canals and charming old buildings, there are 47 chocolate shops, all within walking distance of each other. Many offer free samples, virtually guaranteeing an addiction.
Many of these artisan chocolatiers use the same brand of chocolate, Callebaut or Belcolade for couverture, but differentiate themselves with the old family recipes they use, producing wonderful fruit creams, caramel toffees, bursts of liqueur, exotic spices, tea and coffee flavors, all enrobed in rich, heavenly chocolate.
I ask the owner of one of these shops where Godiva and Leonidas stand in the spectrum of Belgium chocolate makers. She places them squarely in the middle.
One characteristic that distinguishes Belgian chocolate from its Swiss and French counterparts is the fine degree to which the chocolate is ground—to 18 microns—accounting for its unique flavor and texture. Furthermore, Belgian chocolatiers proudly maintain a commitment to pure 100% cocoa mass although the European Union allows 5% vegetable oil in lieu of cocoa butter (the oil from the cacao beans).
After my exhaustive search for Bruges’ best chocolate, I head for Choco-Story, the chocolate-themed museum located in a former wine tavern, the Maison de Croon, ca.1480. Opened in March, 2005, the museum’s exhibits include the earliest history of cacao from its Mexican and Aztec beginnings, an impressive, time-lapse documentary that demonstrates how the cacao pod grows out of the flower, and a live demonstration for making pralines, a hard chocolate shell casing containing various confections. Belgium’s Jean Neuhaus developed the praline in Brussels in 1912.
Sated from chocolate, I search for my next indulgence at Oud Vlissinghe, the city's oldest tavern.
I hear they serve some pretty good beers in these parts.