Gourmet Foods 101
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Belgian Chocolate

Belgian Chocolatiers Invented Pralines

Chocolate lovers know that fine gourmet chocolate is made in many countries around the world. It's often a toss-up as to who produces the best tasting chocolate, but Belgium is always high on everybody's list. Belgian chocolate is often considered to be the gourmet standard, by which all other chocolate is measured. Even the Swiss imported the basic chocolate recipe from French and Belgian chocolatiers.

Belgian chocolate has been popular since the 1900s, but a new method of producing it created by Jean Neuhaus, in 1912, increased its popularity by leaps and bounds. Neuhaus used a special version of chocolate, called couverteur, as a cold shell for what he called pralines. These pralines are different from the sugary candy that you find in American candy shops. Belgian chocolate pralines could be filled with various flavored nougats or creams such as coffee, hazelnut, fruit and even more chocolate. Few other chocolate manufacturers of the day could reproduce the specific flavors of his Neuhaus's pralines. However, they were all still successful and many of the Belgian chocolate praline companies are still in operation today, including Leonidas, Neuhaus, Godiva, Nirvana, Simone Marie and Guylian.

One great technical advantage Belgian chocolate has over other manufacturers is the storage method of couverteur before use. In the chocolate making process, the cocoa beans are ground, mixed with sugar and cocoa butter, and then smoothed out, with the addition of heat. Most chocolate producers get their chocolate in solid form, which means it must be reheated in order for it to be usable. Belgian chocolate companies usually import their couverteur in heated trucks, shortly after the heat tempering process. Since the chocolate hasn't cooled down, it keeps much more of its aroma than the cooled varieties of chocolate.

Belgian chocolate is unique because of the quality of the ingredients that go into it and because of the traditional old world manufacturing methods. Even in today's high tech world, most Belgian chocolate is still made by hand, in small shops, with the original equipment. Many of these small chocolate outlets are a popular attraction for visiting tourists. Most tours of Belgian chocolate shops will include tasting and souvenirs, much like winery tours.

Belgian chocolate is usually pretty expensive, but most people believe it's worth it, as it is makes a wonderful gift.

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