Chocolate makes me happy, so discovering that I was to spend a day exploring the chocolate secrets of Montreal was guaranteed to make me very happy indeed. Given the prevailing French culture in Quebec, I had high expectations of finding great chocolate in Montreal – expectations which weren’t to be disappointed. My Tourisme Montréal guide, Hugo Leclerc, met me at my hotel and ferried me off to the Atwater Market, one of the major Montreal markets, home to some amazing butchers and delicatessens and also home to the chocolate boutique Chocolats Privilège. There we met with the chocolate chaperone of my dreams, Andrea Doucet Donida, Marketing Director for Barry Callebaut Canada and all-round chocolate afficionado.
Andrea showed me around Chocolats Privilège, the first and only chocolate boutique in Quebec which makes it’s products from the ground up – almost literally. Established just two years ago, this artisan chocolate producer sources their cacao beans from growers and processes them on site. In this short time they have expanded to five retail sites and one other production site, selling a range of gourmet, handcrafted chocolates, truffles and pralines, pastries and macarons as well as cocoa, chocolate bars, buds, flakes and other products for chefs and home cooks.
They are noted for their wide range of naturally based flavours, using things like szechuan peppers and tonka beans, and also their fine attention to detail with each product finished beautifully. Naturally, I was completely blissed out and happy to try ALL the things, but these clever little pieces above really caught my eye. Each small plastic ampoule has a different flavoured liqueur ready for you to inject it into the ganache – what a clever idea!
From there we headed to Chocolats Andrée, a very traditional chocolate boutique which has held a special place in many local hearts since it was established in 1940. This gorgeous little store is owned and run by Stéphanie Saint-Denis, the grandaughter of founder Madeleine Daigneault, who began her enterprise in a period when women were rarely encouraged to take a place in the business world.
Madeleine was committed to producing high quality, hand dipped chocolates and was one of the first in Montreal to use a high-cocoa content chocolate. Today those chocolates are still made in the same way – hand produced on the same marble tables, using the same fondant moulds and original gas cookers that Madeleine and her all-female staff employed. In fact Stéphanie told me that the gas company has had to specially train staff to service her aging gas stoves, as the older gasfitters retire leaving the younger generation scratching their heads at her antiquities.
Each of over 50 different varieties of Stéphanie’s exquisite little hand-made morsels is produced on-site in small batches by a staff using not only the same production tools, but also the same techniques which made Madeleine such a success. Everything is hand dipped, using a 67% chocolate, and even the candied fruits are made in the atelier at the back of the store. The staff is small and still mostly female, with the master-confectioner Michel Hadd the only male to have worked in the business. This store and it’s products are steeped in a family tradition of quality and care, giving it a well merited place in the culinary history of Montreal.
Our final stop of the day was at the splendid new, but not quite finished, premises of the Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Montreal. In the final stages of the fit-out on the day I visited, the Academy was to be opened the following week and boasted vast space and exceptional facilities for the offices, reception rooms and dedicated cooking classrooms. Like similar Barry Callebaut Academies in 14 other international locations (although none in Australia and I’m still a little sulky about that) this will offer practical and theoretical courses for professional chocolate artisans, pastry chefs, bakers and confectioners, with some courses for amateurs as well. I’m thinking of starting a lobby group to get them to venture down under – anybody with me on this?
Edited 12 November 2014.