Cigar Aficionado

When it comes to convections, purists will tout couverture and bar chocolate. But if fun is the objective—and when is it not?—follow the French candy makers who have made an obsession of showcasing a wide range of flavors in a small medium: the bonbon.

What sets French chocolatiers apart is their drive to make every descriptor on the flavor wheel work. Orange and lemon, passion fruit, fennel and more round out the usual berries and nuts.

Of those available stateside, four producers stand out. The oldest of the group, Debauve & Gallais (top right), was founded in 1800 by an apothecary who had used chocolate to make the royals’ medicines more palatable. Its range remains classic, with well-balanced flavors. A lavender-honey bonbon has a powerful, aromatic punch of honey, followed by a long finish slowly turning to chocolate. A squat oval wraps nougatine around ganache, and covers the whole thing in chocolate.

Michel Cluizel (bottom right), founded in 1948, has some forward-looking flavors among its traditional offerings. The rochers (named for their resemblance to rocks) are like sweeter, crunchier truffles filled with nougat in ganache. One chocolate looks like a tiny iced cupcake and features a hazelnut butter ganache. Its walnut bonbons have a strong, almost funky flavor. The candied citrus chocolates are also well-made.

La Maison du Chocolat (bottom left) focuses on choosing the best raw materials by origin to balance other flavors. For instance, a lemon ganache might require a strong blend of couvertures to stand up to its strong acidity. One subtler piece had milk chocolate and puffed rice and was barely sweet. In another example, the chocolate reined in the piercing acidity and sweetness of a passion fruit rectangle. This chocolatier’s aim is always that you taste the chocolate, then the flavoring, and then return to chocolate on the finish.

Richart (top left) stretches the envelope with flavorings such as bergamot and ylang. Its great strength is in the ability to extract the essential flavors in the mix. Candied lime, orange-peel coulis, and even pineapple, achieve deep and bright flavors to punch through the dark chocolate robes. If you like nuts, be sure to try these. Roasted hazelnut had nice depth, and the pistachio praline square was perfect: direct and clear chocolate and nut flavors, not sweet, just right.

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