The Art of French Chocolate: A Visit to Valrhona

JWU students and Ecole chefs at Valrhona

JWU students + L'Ecole Supérieure chefs at Valrhona. Back: Sarah Coleman, Deborah Ferreira, David Cottrell, Samara Wald, Alyson Kreifels, Harry Fiebelman, Addison Hall, Bridget Dohony, Spencer Tomasini, Lacey Scherrer, Nicole Mulligan, Courtney Kenyon, Chef Olivier Robin, Chef Jerome, Heather Pitt, Marissa Bunnewith, Summer Williams, Jessie Davis, Rachel Lee. Front: Tali Goldstein, Vonshia Brown, Samantha Riley, Ashley Tuttle, Sarah Falce, Kelsey Burack, Emily Simone, Juliana Engler, Tess Greenberg, Corinne Beylo | Photo by Harry Fiebelman

GUEST POST: JWU Providence baking & pastry student Samantha Riley is spending the term abroad at L’Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Pâtisserie (ENSP), Alain Ducasse and pastry chef Yves Thuriès’ renowned pastry school in Yssingeaux, France. Here’s her account of a recent tour she and her fellow JWU students (all 28 of them) took of the nearby Valrhona factory. (Oh, and a winery.)

We boarded a bus on an early spring morning for a field trip to the famous Valrhona chocolate factory and later to Chapoutier, a local and established winery, for a wine tasting.

The tour was slight change of pace to our everyday schedule of French class and baking lab classes. We were all excited about learning more about the industry and the origins of products we used every day in the kitchen.

Valrhona is considered one of the world’s most gourmet chocolate producers.

The tour started off with a chocolate tasting that included 5 chocolates, ranging from white chocolate to an extremely dark chocolate.

How to Really Taste Chocolate
The chocolatier proceeded to explain the exact process of tasting a chocolate in order to fully appreciate it and how to get the most of out of the experience. You begin by smelling the chocolate for aromas, then move on to the tasting.

Clockwise from left: Valrhona chocolates (do not eat the screen) / Wines at Chapoutier Vineyard / Valrhona chcolate bars, all in a row.

Valrhona chocolates (do not eat your screen) + wines at Chapoutier Vineyard.

The first stage of the tasting is to close one’s eyes and bite into the piece of heavenly goodness while staying focused on the flavor profile of the chocolate, which runs a spectrum of salty, bitter, sweet and sour.

The second stage was to become aware of the depth of flavor within each chocolate, starting with subtle initial tones of flowers and fruit, midtones of spices and nuts and finally, aftertones of undergrowth and woodiness.

After the mouth-watering and informative experience we were eager to learn more about the process behind this delectable product.

Surrounding the area were interactive displays that explained the steps the chocolate takes before it makes its way to the masterminds at Valrhona.

[When tasting], become aware of the depth of flavor within each chocolate, starting with subtle initial tones of flowers and fruit, midtones of spices and nuts and finally, aftertones of undergrowth and woodiness.

The tour did not stop there, however — instead we were guided around the inside of the adjoining chocolate school, where students worked on developing new recipes and perfecting the art of chocolate making.

And what tour would be complete without a visit to the gift shop? The Valrhona gift shop left nothing more to be desired. Valrhona’s had just about any chcolate item once could imagine, proving itself (once again) one of the world’s top gourmet chocolate producers.

In Vino Veritas
After a leisurely meal at a small restaurant brimming with a vibrant local culture and delicious food, we ventured on down the street for the wine tasting to end the day.

At Chapoutier, we were treated to a wine tasting of 4 wines, including a session on the proper way to drink a glass of wine. All of us were curious about the reasoning behind wine swirling — during the tasting we learned that it helps to fully release the wine’s signature aroma.

Following the swirl, one must slowly sip a small portion of the wine and before swallowing, swirl around in one’s mouth to fully embody the wine.

JWU baking & pastry student Samantha Riley in France
Samantha Riley in front of the château that houses École Nationale Supérieure de Pâtisserie.

Filled with appetizing local food, the highest-quality chocolate and finishing with refreshing wine, we could not have asked for a better day.

Food is so much more than a staple item; it is truly something that should be an experience within itself — and who better to appreciate that than culinary students?

Whether you’re in France, the United States or anywhere in the globe, James Beard said it best when he stated that, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”

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Topics: Study Abroad