wining and dining

Chocolate adventures in Bruges

Shaney Hudson
Chocolate adventures in Bruges
"Of course, the trouble with successfully sexing up chocolate is you have to keep pushing the barriers."
Shaney Hudson

Ever fancied doing a line with the Rolling Stones?

A few years back, Chef Dominique Persoone was presented with that very opportunity. An up-and-coming chocolatier, Persoone was asked to create a little chocolate something for a dinner party that Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie were attending.

The host wanted to impress his guests and had one instruction: create something a little left of centre.

What Persoone came up with was a small contraption known as a 'chocolate shooter', which allows you to snort granulated chocolate mixed with flavours such as mint and raspberry. Similar to snuffing tobacco, it was a huge hit with the band — and became Persoone's career-making golden ticket, earning him the title of 'shock-o-latier'.

On a side note, if you can snort chocolate, does that mean it's okay to pick your nose and eat it afterwards?

Belgium is renowned for its chocolate, which first appeared in the country via Spanish traders in the 17th century. Back then, it was strictly off limits to all but the very rich, sold in either pharmacies or tobacconists and prepared in elaborate cups as a hot drink. Nowadays, speciality chocolate shops ply their trade throughout the country.

The small UNESCO listed city of Bruges clearly reigns over Brussels and Antwerp as the chocolate capital of the country. Located about 10 kilometres from the North Sea, more than 50 chocolate shops operate in the tiny historic centre.

In November each year the city hosts the International Chocolate symposium, followed by Choco-late, a massive chocolate festival that includes chocolate body painting, chocolate beauty products, chocolate sculptures, exhibitions, bars, chocolate-making workshops and most important of all: chocolate tastings.

There's also a surprisingly good chocolate museum that charts the history of chocolate from Mayan times (complete with relics) to its introduction to Europe; the farming production and manufacture of cacao and even a full chocolate kitchen with demonstrations each hour.

Amongst the international chocolate community, Bruges is known as a place where the chocolatiers push boundaries and are currently redefining the consumer's understanding of chocolate. Persoone is just one example. The success of the chocolatier's chocolate shooter led to a patent on the contraption, and later a shop in the busy Simon Stevinplein square in Bruges, called (appropriately) The Chocolate Line.

Listed in the Michelin guide, the shop is one of the best chocolate shops in town to head to, with huge chocolate art installations in the window, dark wooden shelves stacked with cacao goodies and a glass-fronted display case filled with around 50 different handmade creations, all stacked on top of each other like edible Lego.

Behind the front counter is a window to the kitchen, where you can watch Persoone and his staff prepare the chocolate on site. Quirky chocolate delights include the saffron curry chocolate, made with a white chocolate ganache; sake chocolate made with Japanese rice wine, and lemongrass and coconut milk chocolate.

Of course, the trouble with successfully sexing up chocolate is you have to keep pushing the barriers. The Chocolate Line now stocks edible chocolate massage oil, body paint and lipstick (which is for eating ice-cream, and not locking lips), and of course, the obligatory celebrity chef cookbook called Cacao.

His latest chocolate creation is the tequila chocolate shooter, which consists of a salt-rimmed chocolate shot glass that you fill with tequila, shot down and then eat. Just the sort of deadly thing to tip you over the edge on a big night out.

Of course, not every chocolatier is focused on the novelty element of the chocolate. At the other end of the chocolate spectrum you have chocolatiers like Bart Desmidt, a Michelin star chef turned chocolatier whose focus is on the expert gastronomic matching of families of chocolate to individual herbs, fruits, pralines and chocolate.

While elsewhere chocolatiers like to fiddle with their shapes and sizes, offering triangles and squares, crooked prisms and round cups, B by B, Desmidt's store, is different. Each chocolate is made as one long sleek oblong finger of chocolate, and forget the flowery names, too. Instead, the chocolates are given an individual number and packed into stylish sliding boxes, in a sleek white store that looks like it belongs in a design museum.

Here, it's about style and flavour: white chocolate with basil and passionfruit are mixed together; tonka beans and lemon with dark chocolate; strawberry, pepper and lemon chocolate, or the unlikely combination of raspberry and roses.

Yet in Bruges you can find that it's the simple things that delight, like the handmade chocolate covered caramels in the tiny Van Oost shop, or the one-inch thick, sandwich-sized chocolate crackles made with Belgium chocolate rather than copha and cocoa.

During winter, cups of hot chocolate warm are scooped from pots on top of stoves and served with a pinch of chilli — and if that doesn't satisfy, there's always another chocolatier to try, just around the corner.

Which country has the world's best chocolate? Share your thoughts below.

Related: In pics: World's top chocolate spots

User comments
Fully sick bro, Belgium uleh!!
I was in Brugge at the beginning of the year... sooo good. The place is gorgeous and smelt like chocolate, coffee and waffles. We went to the chocolate museum and had some free testers of choclate made in front of you and you can do a little quiz to find the chocolate best suited to your personality and eating style. I took home 1kg of the stuff and it was incredible. Food is amazing, chocolate is amazing, wine is amazing and beer (who can forget the beer?) is amazing... wish I was there again Avoid Brussels like the plague (its Europes public toilet as far as I am concerned) and spend your time in Brugge, you wont regret it!