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Simplicity is the key
Discovering chocolate in the Ardennes
Find out how chocolate is made at Cyril Chocolat
5 mins OF ESCAPE
Chocolate. If you're anything like me, the very mention of this word conjures exquisite images of delicious ganache-filled delights sprinkled with hazelnuts. Just like us, your family will succumb to the warm and friendly hospitality and the divine tasting session offered by Cyril Chocolat. This authentic artisan-chocolatier welcomes you to Samrée.
Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate...
A refuge of indulgence above Roche-en-Ardenne
Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate... No need to taste it or even see it; we just step inside and are instantly greeted with the wonderfully intoxicating aroma of cocoa. Unluckily for 7-year-old Gabriel, he has a blocked nose. We found Cyril's chocolate factory fairly easily, despite the fact that it isn't exactly prominent. The Lemaire family established their chocolate business 25 years ago in the village of Samrée, "away from the large town of Verviers". This former accountant became an artisan chocolatier, just a stone's throw from the oldest cross-country ski resort of Belgian Luxembourg, and his family have been making pralines and other delicious creations ever since. A real dream come true for Yves (as he's really called), who shares his passion with great sincerity.
From cocoa bean to chocolate
We phoned his wife, Anita, a few weeks ago to book for his conference and tasting session. Individual or group booking? In French, Dutch, English or German? They certainly make sure you enjoy your visit and that as many people as possible can join in. We arrive, as advised, a good quarter of an hour in advance. It looks like rain outside so we're pleased to take refuge in this nice little chocolate museum. A film depicts the story of cocoa. With the children, we discover how the cacao tree produces green pods which later turn orange. A genuine specimen is on display. "It's huge!" says Gabriel, amazed. Each step of the processing of cocoa is detailed in images: fermentation, drying on a bed of bamboo leaves, etc. It's not just informative, it's fascinating too.
It takes time to achieve high quality
Filip is especially interested by this museum and the charm of the traditional moulds and items of packaging displayed behind glass, as well as the games that used to come free with tins of cocoa. Clearly they were of high quality. We particularly like a lovely map of the world's capitals which was a free gift with Menier chocolate. This ancient savoir-faire has us reminiscing about treats at our grandparents'. We almost expect to see the fire in the hearth and one of Gran's half-knitted garments.
We feel good in this warm and friendly atmosphere surrounded by heavenly aromas. The children are on their toes as the door to the tasting room slides open. Beckoned by Yves with his kindness and sense of humour, we go in.
Secrets of an artisan chocolatier
Comfortably seated in a room that accommodates up to sixty people, we're looking forward to learning more about the traditions of chocolate... And to taste some! I'm captivated by the melted chocolate swirling before my eyes... and transformed by my imagination into a swimming pool full of creamy cocoa. Help, I think I'm going mad! At last, everyone's ready and Yves starts the proceedings with his demonstration. This machine that has me on my knees is a vital piece of equipment for any artisan chocolatier who means business. It's the machine that tempers the chocolate. "To understand chocolate you have to get the temperature right. Chocolate only goes white with age if it hasn't been kept at the correct temperature." Good to know!
Sharing a succulent experience
The head of this family-run chocolate factory quite simply invites us into his universe. It may be a small business but its expertise enables it to export to eight countries. According to Cyril Chocolat, their recipe for success lies in the quality of the raw ingredients which come from regional sources as much as possible. They place as much emphasis on taste as on creativity. Our tastebuds are going crazy. Yves has expertly prepared a chocolate line-up for us to taste. We're delighted by the idea and by his generosity and sense of hospitality. He has conquered his audience, even before spoiling us!
Taquin the chocolatier starts with the most bitter part of the cocoa, suggesting we try some chips of chocolate in its purest form. I think the taste is exquisite, but it's not what the children expected. The demonstration continues. White chocolate, coating, ganache... Every tasting is accompanied by a full explanation, or nearly! There's no way the artisan is going to reveal his praline recipe: hazelnuts, butter, chocolate, sugar and... a secret ingredient that he won't divulge! We also learn about the health benefits of chocolate and a few tips on how to store it: "between 12 and 18 degrees celsius, in a plastic airtight container to make sure it isn't exposed to moisture." And beware, chocolate is a real "odour eater". If you keep it in the fridge next to the Roquefort cheese, you may get a surprise!
Beware of being bewitched
Once out of the wizard's den, it's difficult to resist visiting the boutique that sells his creations. For our family at least, leaving without a souvenir is out of the question. With his kindness and great sense of humour, Yves Lemaire has us under his spell! In the backroom, hot chocolate is also available for a smoother return to reality. A chance to talk about everything we've just learned on a product we thought we were familiar with. What a pleasant afternoon of indulgence!