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Michel Cluizel Chocolate

V_MichelCluizel2_choc395 Text: Boris Petrovic

In an attempt to write an article about high-end Parisian chocolate stores, create a top list of  the very best chocolate manufacturers in the world, and even write about the contemporary history of chocolate one would have to mention, sometimes even begin with  Michel Cluizel. So, in a series of articles dedicated to Parisian chocolate scene, we will start at the top.

The world of high-end gastronomy may seem prone to subjectivity, more so than other, more concrete arts. Still, when the subject is fine chocolate, facts come first. There are some very solid reasons to speak highly of Michel Cluizel chocolates. A company bearing his name is to this day one of the three manufacturers in France - and one of the few in the entire world - to control the entire process of chocolate making, ‘from bean to bar’. In most cases, manufacturers would buy cacao liquor, so called ‘couverture’ from Valrhona, or some other major cocoa supplier, and then create their product from that point on. Michel Cluizel is one of the few who actually scouts far-flung cocoa plantations in person, looking for the perfect beans for his chocolate, and then handles all the stages of the production - drying the bean, fermenting, roasting, conching, and so on. Furthermore, he was the first in France to start the ‘noble ingredients’ label, a seal of quality that meets the highest criteria in chocolate making. To be more precise, this means that his chocolates do not contain soy lecithin; they are made with pure cocoa butter, without addition of vegetable fat; the sugar used is cane brown, not refined, and vanilla comes from authentic bourbon pods, never extracts or aromas.
Like all fine chocolate artisans serious about their craft, Michel Cluizel has his own series of ‘Premier cru’ tablets, meaning that these chocolates come from a single cocoa bean related to a specific plantation rather than a no-name blend of cocoas (in most cases coming from Ivory coast plantations) ordinary chocolates are made from. For the moment, this exclusive series is limited to five different chocolates coming from all over the world: we meet beans from Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Island of Sao Tomé, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.    

But what do these facts mean to the average buyer or a simple cacao aficionado, and how do they translate to taste? Smoothly and nearly flawlessly. Cluizel’s chocolates are well known for their superb finish and texture. Their smell is simply intoxicating, subtle yet well defined with an aroma which is full and complex, vibrating with different tones. The relation between cacao powder and butter is handled well, sometimes slightly tipping to the butter side. This characteristic makes the chocolates creamier and gives them a finer melt, but at the same time, purist might complain that it makes them somewhat less authentic. Roasting is done exceptionally well and with finesse - beans are neither over-roasted which would give them more of a coffee, burnt aroma nor under-roasted, which would leave the potential, especially taste and smell of the bean underdeveloped.  We should mention that a lot of chocolate manufacturers, trying to conceal cacao’s poor quality and lack of character, tend to over roast them, thus making the chocolate chalky and giving it coal undertones. Unfortunately, sometimes even the more expensive chocolates, trying to pass as high end, are employing this trick.

Three bars stand out in quality: these are Premier Cru ‘Los Ancones’ from Dominican Republic, ‘99 percent’ from blend of cocoa and the finest of them all, Premier Cru ‘Vila Gracinda’ from Island of Sao Tomé.  While we could still argue whether Pralus’ ‘100 percent’ is better than Michel Cluizel’s ’99 percent’ or vice-versa – although it is a question of ‘apples and oranges’, and simply a matter of personal preference - and while we could also find chocolates from Venezuelan or Madagascar cocoa that are as good or even better than Michel Cluizel’s version (Jean Paul Hévin, Amedei) Cluizel’s ‘Vila Gracinda’ is the absolute best, not only in France but worldwide, when it come to cacao from Sao Tomé. No other manufacturer has been able to develop such a deep, complex and intriguing smell, taste and aroma from this, often considered problematic cocoa bean. It is because of his ‘from bean to bar’ policy that Michel Cluizel manages to extract and present us the very essence of this cocoa’s full flavor, staying true to its nature but also giving it his own, unique interpretation. When we take into account previously mentioned qualities, such as a well handled roast, professional finish and long, satisfying melt, we have in front of us a true masterpiece of a chocolate.

Of course, no review would be complete without pointing to certain flaws of an artisan in question, and Cluizel does have some. We have already mentioned superb finish and texture as one of his chocolate’s principal qualities. To a certain extent, those aspects of a Cluizel bar are just too perfect - meaning that sometimes, the intervention and handling of cocoa can get in the way of its natural properties. In some cases (‘Vila Gracinda’ or ‘Los Ancones’), characteristics of a certain bean are brought to the surface and masterfully developed to a full extent: in some other (‘Maralumi’, ‘Mangaro’) cocoa’s original taste and aroma are muffled and suppressed by overly present treatment. Compared to Amedei’s or Domori’s coarser, bolder and ‘wilder’ taste and texture, Cluizel’s finish does seems more elegant and refined  at the same time, it is that much further away from the cocoa’s true nature, which is to have a certain level of acidity and coarseness in taste and dryness in texture. This is, again, the question of ‘apples and oranges’: some prefer finesse over force, some the other way around - but it should be mentioned. In the same vein, sugar content can get quite high in Cluizel’s bars, which is another obstacle to appreciating the true cocoa taste. This is certainly not the case with his ’99 percent’ (a masterpiece on its own, but not advised for beginners as it is simply too strong), ’85 percent’ or even the ’72 percent’  - but when it comes to ‘Mangaro’ and ‘Conception’, we felt as if these bars were seriously injured, almost crippled by excessive sweetness. Furthermore, the cocoa content in his ‘Premier cru’ series could have been higher - we would love to taste 85 percent (or more) Sao Tomé bar. All of the ‘Premier cru’ fall just a few numbers short of the 70 percent bar.

With everything said, flaws included, Michel Cluizel is one of the very best producers in the world - certainly the best in France - in that particular category where objectively naming the best is impossible, as it would be due to personal preference and taste. Every chocolate amateur, beginner or connoisseur, should pay a visit to his boutique. It is a good place to begin one’s initiation to a world of fine chocolate, and one where you will surely want to come back. 

Boutique Michel Cluizel
201 rue Saint Honoré
75001 Paris

Bonapart Paris apartments



Wow, great review of and insight on the chocolate making. I am a fan of Michel Cluizel's chocolates. Well, let's not say fan but more I appreciate and moreover EAT his chocolates :-) I always get them at www.Winterfeldt-Schokoladen.de in Berlin. I am lucky enough to live here, so I can easily get a refill. I especially appreciate the "bean to bar" policy and like to support such acts.

Thanks, Rebecca

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