Just before departing on any trip to France that includes Provence, I'm given clear, unmistakeable instructions: do not return without a box of chocolate. This order comes from my wife, but our children eagerly chime in as well. By "chocolate" they don't mean just any old bar, but a box of Joël Durand chocolate.
The little Provençal village of Saint-Rémy is the home-base for Joël Durand, Chocolatier, whose flavor creations bear about as much similarity to a Hershey® bar as Welch's® grape juice does to a fine Bordeaux. Durand's main product is what he calls the Alphabet of Flavors. Each member of the alphabet is about one inch square and a half-inch thick. Visually they all look the same, except for a cluster of small letters stenciled on top of each one. The letters identify what's inside each chocolate (maybe See's Candy should be taking notes here). Using the standard 26 letters plus some punctuation marks, Durand produces roughly 32 different flavor combinations. And what combinations!
There are the standard sort of flavors that any chocolate lover would expect: C = chocolate and caramel, in this case 40% milk chocolate with salted Brittany butter caramel; O = dark chocolate and fresh orange; K = dark chocolate with pure Arabica coffee. Many of Durand's flavor combinations lean heavily on the products close at hand in his provençal home, things like lavender, thyme, rosemary and honey.
But as you work through the alphabet you'll find some flavors that give you pause, sort of a "I wouldn't have thought of that, but it sounds good." These include things like H = dark chocolate, clove and fresh lemon peel; or G = 40% milk chocolate, nutmeg, cinnamon, sun-dried Bourbon vanilla, and fresh lemon peel. And then there are things like: P = almond praline with black olives from Les Baux valley, and X = dark chocolate and India green cardamom. You wonder what sort of mind-altering state he was in when he produced it. And then you taste it and realize . . . he's not mad, just a genius.
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