Belgian (or Swiss) chocolate is the best in the world!
This is a commonly held belief and something that, as a chocolate maker, I hear often. Many people have a story about receiving chocolate brought back from Belgium/Switzerland and how it was the best that they had ever had. With all of this circumstantial evidence, one might well assume that there is a large grain of truth to the statement. Here is the actual truth:
There is no best chocolate in the world. Taste in chocolate is based upon two main things: culture and individual education/experience, and these all vary infinitely for everyone in the world.
It will certainly be possible to find people in Belgium/Switzerland that prefer dark, more heavily roasted, French chocolate, but most will prefer a very creamy milk chocolate. This is because this is what they are used to. This is what their culture tells them is good.
Do I agree personally? Not at all. I prefer the following type of chocolate:
Start with quality cacao, roast minimally, add just enough sugar to moderate innate cacao bitterness and astringency present in even the best quality cacao, conche in such a way to lead to a pleasurable balance of flavors where cacao is still the star player, age slightly for further flavor development, mold and enjoy.
Belgian/Swiss styles on the whole are more like this:
Start with mid-quality cacao, add lots of sugar, lots of cocoa butter, milk, and lots of vanilla and/or malt.
The average person off the street in the US would probably prefer the Belgian style (though that is changing), and chocolate made according to my preferences may, at first taste, be quite unexpected for people who are used to eating Beligian-style chocolate. Yet, I find that when people are wine drinkers and foodies in general, they make quite an easy transition from thinking of chocolate as brown, sweet, creamy, milk and vanilla-tinged stuff, to a product that is a a little bit thicker on the palate, and with complex notes of fruit, nuts, cocoa and an otherwise robust profile. Not everyone likes it, but many do or learn to like it more than other styles. The key is often for people to understand that it is different for a reason, and what that reason is, and then to eat the chocolate with that in mind. Expectations have to first be destroyed and then re-formed. Do you remember the first time that you tasted coffee, wine or beer? Did you really enjoy it? Some of the most complex and interesting foods in the world take time to finally understand; that is how I see it.
Does this mean that my chocolate, or chocolate that I like, is the best in the world? Not at all. It still just means that I like it best, and that there are more and more people finding value in it.
Those of you starting to feel that I am taking too much of a relativist approach however by saying that quality only has meaning in relation to an individuals culture and personal experiences, have no fear, I’ll give you something a bit more concrete.
Let’s say that we look to people who take chocolate very seriously, write about it, review it, talk about it, hold tastings, and have a good grasp of the variety of chocolate out there. If there was a general concensus amongst these chocolate literati that certain types of chocolate are better than others, couldn’t we say that this “type” of chocolate is best? I’ll leave that up to you to decide, but I’ll tell you approximately what they would choose. A chocolate:
- Made with good/high-quality cacao
- That is a dark chocolate with a percentage from 65%-80%
- That has a roast profile from moderate to heavy
- With a moderately creamy texture, often due to a small amount of added cocoa butter
- That has a small amount of vanilla, no malt, or even no flavoring added at all
Keep in mind that all of these people are individuals and that they don’t all think as one uber-expert, so the above is just a summary that encapsulates the general tendencies of the group. It is certainly possible for a chocolate to fall within the above framework and be considered bad by most of those chocophiles and the inverse could be true. One thing that is interesting to mention, however, is that almost none of these chocolates would be Belgian or Swiss. Most would be French, Italian, and increasingly, American.
Taste is subjective, but most chocophiles do not prefer Belgian/Swiss chocolate to other chocolates.
You be the judge.
Disclaimer: There are certainly chocolates made in Belgium or Switzerland that do not fit the description given above of Belgian and Swiss chocolate. By using the terms Belgian or Swiss chocolate I mean to point to the generally preferred styles of chocolate in those countries, and not to say that all chocolate made in either country is of that style, even if the vast majority may be. In either case, my intention is not to speak badly of any companies.
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