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Bonbon Appetit
Brussels Chocolate: Nobody Knows the Truffles I've Seen

By Gary Lee
The Washington Post
Sunday, November 2, 1997; Page E04
   


On a tour of the most esteemed chocolate houses in Brussels, my guide breezed past a window laden with deep brown Godivas, and another stacked high with the finest pralines of Leonidas, hardly blinking an eyelid.

In this city where chocolates are sold on nearly every corner, served in white gloves and savored like aged Scotch, the products of Godiva -- which contain added sugar to suit the American palate -- are a bit too sweet for most locals, explained Valentin Thijs, a self-styled epicure of Belgian cuisine.

As for Leonidas, he added, it makes a fine chocolate, probably as tasty as any in the Belgian capital. But then, lowering his voice to a whisper and glancing around, he warned against offering the budget-priced brand to Belgians as gifts.

So where were the real Belgian chocolates?

The flagship store of Neuhaus, situated in the elegant Galerie de la Reine, was our first stop. At 140 years old, it is Belgium's oldest chocolate maker and, by most accounts, its most revered. The inventor of the concept of the praline (a chocolate shell inside which liqueurs, fruits or other delicacies are secretly borne) and originator of the idea of stacking chocolates in a box rather than piling them in a bag, Neuhaus has forged a path followed by nearly all its competitors.

Neuhaus also has helped refine the Belgian chocolate recipe, composed of about one-third cocoa, one-third cocoa butter and one-third milk and sugar. French chocolates contain greater portions of cocoa; the Swiss add more milk. At $3.25 for 100 grams (about 4 ounces), Neuhaus products are among the most pricey.

Corne de la Toison d'Or, a few doors down from Neuhaus in the Galerie, was another delight. Made with fresh cream and no preservatives, the chocolates should be eaten within a few days of purchase, a clerk explained. All too willing to comply, I bought 100 grams for $2.80 and gobbled one right there.

In the course of five days, I settled on Galler as my personal favorite. This firm's products boast a richer, fuller taste than the others, one that pleased my tongue greatly the first time and every time thereafter. At $3.40 for 100 grams, this chocolate fell in the higher-priced category, but proved worth every bite.

For general trendiness, I liked Planete Chocolat. After observing the old-fashioned ways of the Belgian chocolate scene, where flavors and designs have remained largely unchanged for a century, proprietor Frank Duval decided there was room for something newer and fresher. The result is a small operation where customers can observe the manufacturing process downstairs and retreat upstairs to a cozy cafe for wine and pralines. New flavors like cinnamon and fresh designs have helped made Planete the fast favorite of the younger generation of Brussels chocolate munchers.

Galler, Rue au Beurre 44; Planete Chocolat, 57 Rue du Midi; Neuhaus, Galerie de la Reine 25-27; Corne, Rue de la Madeleine 9.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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