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The Chocolate Factory

Ever since my conversation with world-renowned chocolate expert Chloé a few weeks back, my interest in fine chocolate has been ignited, and propelled, by visits to some of Paris’s most venerated chocolate makers. Evidently, the French have elevated cooking to an art form, and it’s no surprise that a new wave of French chocolatiers have begun to breathe life into chocolate making in surprising and innovative ways.

It was for this reason the opening of Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse’s first venture into chocolate making with chocolatier Nicolas Berger -- La Manufacture du Chocolat -- piqued my interest. Opened two weeks ago on 40 Rue de la Roquette, just around the corner from Opera Bastille, this is another gourmet address to add to the wide selection of exceptional restaurants and eateries dotted around the 11th arrondissement.

Bean to Bar Chocolate Production in Paris

What makes Alain Ducasse’s chocolate emporium so unique is that the process from bean to chocolate is undertaken entirely under one roof, making it the first bean-to-bar producer based in Paris. Chloé Doutre-Roussel explained to me that this kind of artisanal production is very much in vogue in the USA, where independent producers are sourcing and roasting their own beans and then grinding them down into chocolate.

Situated in a courtyard just off Rue de la Roquette it might be easy to miss this chocolatier had I not been looking for it. Despite this, there were a number of customers milling about the light-filled shop when I stepped inside on a Wednesday afternoon. It appears devotees of chocolate don’t take long to show up at the door, and with a shop this inviting who could blame them. The rich smell of chocolate found its way into my nostrils almost immediately as I inspected the shelves of plain packaged chocolates. The exotic names of countries, such as Brazil, Indonesia, and Peru, were printed in distinctive black lettering on the brown paper packaging.

A Private Chocolate Tour with Tastings

The shop is entirely glazed and looks onto the kitchens that adjoin it, where large, hulking machines of various uses form the basis of the production line. As the publicist, who kindly showed me around explained: ‘these machines were sourced by Ducasse and Berger over the space of four years, and have been customised for small production of chocolate. The large roaster, for instance, had previously been used as coffee roaster. Its temperature had to be lowered from 70° and its speed had to be adjusted so that the beans were not crushed.’

Alain Ducasse in the 11th Arrondissement

It is at this moment that I get to meet Nicolas Berger who kindly offers me a taste of some freshly roasted chocolate beans he has been turning in a large brass bowl. There is a surprisingly nutty taste added to the intense, almost smoky flavour of these chocolate beans. The sumptuous taste lingered on my palate while I listened absent-mindedly to the rest of the tour, totally distracted by the displays of chocolate spread out before me. I ask Aude, the publicist, why they decided to set up shop in the 11th arrondissement? She replied, that in Paris it was difficult to find a space where they could place heavy machinery of this type. Also they needed a courtyard to unload the heavy sacks of cocoa beans that are sourced from all over the world.

We head back into the shop. The décor, 1930s in style, was sourced from antique dealers and second hand sources -- like the heavy machinery in the kitchen. The industrial image of a bygone ear is reflected in the area's history -- the 11th arrondissement was traditionally working class and many ateliers were in operation in this area during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

I get a chance to taste some of the incredible ganaches that look at me from the central glass display cabinet before I buy a square of milk chocolate dipped in almonds to take home with me that night for extra tasting. As I walk home I think how it seems quite fitting that a chocolate manufacture as avant-guard in its ambitions, but run by an established player should find its home among the bobos (bourgeois-bohemians) and neo-bistros of this ever exciting and bourgeoning quartier.

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