I’m back from vacation, and it’s back to work work and back to the blog!
Sometimes you just have to get down and dirty and do some research. I’ve been hard at work tasting different chocolates so you don’t have to over the past months. I willing submitted myself to “taking one for the team.” No need for thanks, it’s a pleasure.
When I started asking my coworkers for recommendations of chocolate shops around town, I was thinking of a local shop that sold a variety of chocolate beyond the Nestle’ and Perugina (the same company, btw), maybe a few microproducers or less-known Italian brands so I could go in, roll around a bit and sample some different brands I’d never heard of. Many of the bakeries sell a selection of chocolate as well as their pastries, but not all of them sell very much so you run the risk of getting stale chocolate.
In Rome, I would always head to the Castroni on Via Cola di Rienzo or Quattro Fontane – they always had a selection of chocolates and gift packs that were constantly being turned over and therefore quite fresh.
But I’m still looking for my Castroni here in Milan. I got a few random recommendations (note to self: when asking for sweet shops, ask the serious sweet tooths!) but didn’t hear any repetitions until “that chocolate shop on Via Vincenzo Monti” came up a few times – it sounded promising! Of course no one could give me an address or even a name, “it’s famous, everyone will know where you’re talking about” and after assuring me that “Via Monti is not that long” I bribed Sante to head on an expedition in search of this store. He was happy to comply with chocolate as a reward but not as excited about my lack of information.
After a wrong turn (and, the street is QUITE long) I decided to test the theory that everyone would know where this chocolate store was and started to ask people on the street. One woman, too, couldn’t tell me its name but pointed me in the right direction to “that chocolate shop down there.”
We started to run out of open street shops on the side of the street they told me about until we walked by a brilliantly lit display almost completely in white. “What’s this?” I searched for a sign indicating a name, or something. Then I saw the tiny chocolates nestled in little packages and I immediately pushed open the door.
The store is one of Richart‘s 13 chocolate boutiques in the world.
“Buona sera!” A man from the second floor greeted us as he came down the stairs. A little shopping alarm went off in my head as I know one of the cardinal rules is “predominance of white in stores” = expensive goods but they looked so pretty I knew there was no way I was leaving empty-handed.
From the store’s appearance and his entrance, I expected a snooty reception. 40 minutes later, we were still in the store, getting detailed instructions about the chocolate tasting party I had spontaneously planned and our mouths were watering from his descriptions.
Very, very helpful. And so very pretty.
I walked away with the item I had decided to buy 5 minutes into his explanation – a mixed box of the 7 different chocolate lines. 49 little chocolates nestled in their white box.
See those designs? And the colors? *Squeal* Each color indicates a family of chocolates with similar fillings and/or infusions, and each design indicates a unique flavor combination. I have to admit I spent a while studying and admiring them, and I almost didn’t want to eat them!
The man working at Richart gave us a few tips for the tasting, and I encourage you to also read David Lebovitz’s recent Chocolate tasting post for more ideas, especially with single-origin and/or bar chocolate.
- Water is the best palate cleanser with chocolate. Wine of course tastes good when paired with chocolate but when chocolate is the main focus you’ll lose a lot of the flavors. (N.B.: So use cheap(er) chocolate for your wine & chocolate parties.)
- Avoid spicy or flavor intensive foods right before a tasting. Those rose petals are going to be very difficult to sense if you’ve just eaten a richly-spiced curry meal. We had our tasting before dinner so that our palates would be clean. And it gave me an excuse to have dessert before dinner!
- Don’t bite off the chocolates – especially with Richart chocolates which can be quite small, the piece is meant to be enjoyed in its entirety by putting it directly in your mouth, chewing and letting it melt and mix it all together. Biting off half of it so you can share it will divide the flavor and maybe not in an equal way. This is different for bars, of course.
- Each time of day has its chocolate. We didn’t go into this level of detail with our tasting (plus we only had our guest for a few hours) but he assured us that some chocolate are made to be savored in the morning, some after lunch, etc. I think planning a chocolate day could be in the works!
Especially for this box, it was important to start with the more mild chocolates before proceeding to the richer, more intense flavors. The order of the lines that I list below is more or less the order that we used during the tasting.
The lines included in this box were: Balsamic, Roasted, Fruity, Citrus, Herbal, Floral and Spiced. 7 unique flavors for each of the 7 lines with no repeats. A quick intro to the lines:
- Herbal: Infused with herbs such as basil, verbena, green and jasmine teas
- Floral: extracts and real petals from lavender, rose, geranium
- Fruity: Plums, pineapple, raspberry, blueberries, mangoes
- Citrus: Sometimes mixed, others just a chocolate shell holding a tart filling of kumquat, grapefruit, mandarin or bergamot
- Spiced: Curry, Cinnamon, Clove, Nutmeg, yum!
- Roasted: Salted caramel, toasted almond, coffee, pistachio…maybe my favorite line.
- Balsamic: Not the vinegars, but single-origin cacao and ganaches from Venezuela, Papuasia, Madagascar and some infusions with vanilla, liquorice, and malted barley.
The tasting party was quite a success and I know I’d have no trouble getting repeat attendees! As for the Richart chocolates, I thought they were worth the money for the unique experience, and it was really interesting to taste chocolate infused with some flavors I’d maybe never even tried on their own. I also narrowed down the lines that I’d like to buy again (they have smaller boxes with chocolates of a single line) like the Roasted, Spiced or Citrus. I’d also like to try some of their other chocolates like the Mediterranean one I tried in the store with tarragon which are larger and more complex.
I don’t see many of the chocolates as something I would sit and munch on. Thank goodness for my pocketbook.
Something really unique which could be a cool gift is the Richart’s Little Gourmet Ballotin which feature designs by 0-12-yr-olds which are then imprinted onto the chocolate for an entire year. The Milan Duomo designed by a 12-yr-old, then imprinted on chocolate, was pretty impressive.
More chocolate tastings coming!
RICHART MILAN – www.richart.com
Via Vincenzo Monti 36 – MILAN 20123 – Tel 39 02 3652 0676
Metro: MM1 MM2 CADORNA