How eating preferences have changed! Fifteen years ago when I was a student in Tainan it was hard to find quality chocolate. You could buy basic mass-produced imported chocolate ‘candy bars’ — if you looked hard enough, and were willing to pay a premium price. And there are some local, sugary specimens at convenience stores. But quality, imported chocolate was hard to find.
While there is now more choice, the good stuff (i.e. the savour-every-tiny-bite-because-it’s-more-precious-than-gold variety) remains relatively rare. Unless you know where to find authentic French chocolate from deNeuville Chocolat francais.
I was gifted a beautiful box of chocolates from deNeuville a few weeks ago. Somehow I resisted the temptation to open them, knowing that it would be a Pandora’s box that would instantly dissolve my diet willpower. Until today.
A few days ago, I happened to meet Kelly, the importer of deNeuville chocolates. She told me how she just loved to eat chocolates — especially deNeuville chocolates — so she decided to import them from France. It was not a straight-forward journey, and has required perseverance and a creative marketing strategy. But I can’t help admire her vision and commitment to do what she loves — or at least to sell what she loves to eat. And it was sufficient motivation to open my box of chocolates, from which I embarked on a journey of discovery.
I had expected the usual box of square chocolates, perhaps some with fillings, and the odd truffle or two, so surprised to find a cornucopia of goodies almost falling out of the box. It was so exciting to discover the different items, I almost felt like I was a child in a candy-store, or that I had stumbled into Willy Wonka’s magic show room.
So what was in the box?
There were retro-green, pillowy candies called coussins de Lyon. I thought they might be some type of biscuit, but they were a slightly crunchy-candy coated sweet filled with a rich, fudgey chocolate filling. From later research, I learnt that they are a marzipan/chocolate ganache creation that are a speciality of Lyon, France, designed to be shaped like a cushion. It reminded me of a sophisticated yet fun after-dinner mint, with an aniseed accent (the chocolate is usually flavoured with Curacao liqueur.) These were definitely my favourite.
Following in this theme was a selection of marzipan fruits that would make Carmen Miranda proud. My friend Melissa once taught me how to make marzipan fruits. There is a tremendous amount of detail and patience that goes into each creation, so I appreciated the subtleties of the bumps on the grapes and strawberries. They are miniature works of art — and almost (but not quite) too good to eat.
The nougats were also a revelation. I had expected the more usual Italian style hard nougats. But these were as soft as clouds, with a whiff of rose-water and hint of candied fruits. I had expected the more usual peanut, but there were also interspersed blanched almonds. Overall, this was a ladylike confection that would go nicely with a strong cup of tea.
The pastel-coloured spiky chocolates also held a surprise. I bit into mine expecting to find a soft truffle centre. Instead my chocolate contained a rather heady sweet liqueur. Word of caution: best to pop this one straight into the mouth or else you will end up spilling the clear liqueur everywhere. I am not usually a fan of alcoholic chocolates, but these chardons provided an indulgent sweet kick.
Finally, I opened the selection of rectangular foil covered sweets. I had expected thin slabs of milk and dark chocolate, which is the usual inclusion in chocolate boxes, but instead I bit in to find they were in fact soft chewy caramels. Actually, I am not sure if they truly were caramels (the French booklet calls them ‘pates’), but they tasted like caramels so that is what I will call them. In any case, they are sweet and slightly chewy and very addictive.
DeNeuville has operated at department stores such as Bellavita and Eslite in the past, but is now only sold from its Guangfu shopfront (No 14, Lane 180, Guangfu South Road, telephone 2775 1106). Kelly told me she hopes to open more shop fronts in the future, but for now is concentrated on the one chocolate shop, situated near the Sun Yat-sen Memorial.