Inside a private evening of chocolate tasting at Madison Avenue’s La Maison du Chocolat.
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You might be wondering, as I was, what a professor of chocolate looks like. When I arrived the other night at LaMaison du Chocolat’s Tamanaco Tasting Session, boutique manager and resident expert Michael Olsen was wearing a checkered shirt, a bow tie, and smart thick-framed glasses that made him look, well, professorial.
Olsen certainly proved he knew the facts. During the two-hour course, he projected a series of slides that showed the class—there were four of us, seated in twos at tables set with six neatly arranged confections—the process of chocolate-making, from start to finish. All of La Maison’s chocolates are made in the company’s facility in France, where there are fewer than 15 chocolatiers, all of whom have been there about as long as Olsen (a decade or more) and four of whom are responsible for researching ingredients—to find the best hazelnuts, raspberries, lemons, and the like—and conceiving ideas for new treats. The rest of the staff actually makes the chocolates by hand, which is evident in the product’s subtle imperfections, if you look closely. (Check out the bottom of your bonbon next time and see if you can spot any telltale signs.)
Between lessons, Olsen guided us through tastings of the six chocolates—three plain, three La Maison’s signature ganache—which demonstrated the flavor profiles of three different cocoa-growing regions: Ecuador, Madagascar, and Venezuela.
The whole experience was a bit like a wine tasting. As with grapes, the layers of flavors and aromas in a single chocolate recipe can vary based on the provenance of the beans. Also like wine, Olsen explained, many chocolates are best when they’re made from a blend of different types of beans. “You wouldn’t drink 100 percent cabernet, because you often need other flavors to round out the overall taste. Only very few chocolates do we feel are good enough to make of purely single-origin beans.”
We did get to try one of the few single-origin chocolates that La Maison deems flavorful enough: an Ecuadorian selection called the Arriba, named after its origin bean, the Arriba Nacional. Despite its dark color, it had absolutely no bitterness. Arribas are known for their heavy floral content, and, indeed, I could taste hints of jasmine, vanilla, magnolia, and honey. Delicious.
To end the evening, Olsen whipped up a batch of warm, freshly made ganache, done the La Maison way, for everyone to taste. The secret sauce? You’ll have to take the class to find out.
La Maison du Chocolat: Tamanaco Tastings are $70 per person and are offered on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 11 a.m., at the flagship boutique: 1018 Madison Avenue, 212.744.7117.