There can be no better ambassador for Valrhona chocolate, imported from Tain l’Hermitage in France, than Vanessa Quellec, co-owner of and baker and pastry-maker at Caffé Milano.  Vanessa uses Valrhona exclusively for all her chocolate requirements in her cakes and pastries.  It is regarded as one of the best chocolates in the world.

The black packaging is striking, with strong colours representing the different flavours of chocolate available.   Vanessa generously lent me a book by Dominique and Cindy Duby called “Wild Sweets Chocolate”, and gave me a booklet about Valrhona, a slab of Valrhona chocolate, as well as a collection of Easter eggs made by Valrhona, to inspire me in writing this story, not that I needed much encouragement, being a chocolate lover. 

The Valrhona brochure is introduced with three claims: Valrhona is the ‘chocolate-maker to the world’s greatest chefs’, is a ‘creator of unique tastes’, and an ‘expert of the finest cocoa’.  Valrhona has been producing chocolate since 1992, and plants its own cocoa beans and sources from other suppliers too, to create chocolate ranges “to offer gourmet consumers intense tasting experiences”.  The Les Grands Crus range consists of eight flavours, created through different percentages of cocoa content, thereby creating a ‘palette of unique aromas, fruit of our passionate quest for the finest cocoa and the purest origins’, the Valrhona brochure says.  The flavours are the following:

*   Tanariva : 33% cocoa from Madagascar, milk chocolate, ’soft and succulent’

*   Jivara, 40% cocoa, milk chocolate, ‘notes of caramel and vanilla’

*   Taïnori, 64% cocoa from the Dominican Republic, ‘fresh, tangy citrus overtones’

*   Manjari, 64 % cocoa from Madagascar, ‘heavenly acidulous red fruit and dried fruit hints’

*   Alpaco, 66% cocoa from the Equator, ‘floral aromas’

*   Caraïbe, 66 % cocoa, ‘opulent’, ‘subtle almond and roasted coffee flavours’

*   Guanaja, 70 % cocoa, ‘bitterness’

*   Abinao, 85% cocoa, dark and bitter

The Les Grands Crus range 70g slabs of chocolate can be bought at Caffé Milano, and cost R 50.  The Easter eggs are made from the same flavours, each colour wrapping representing a different Valrhona flavour, and beautifully presented in cardboard boxes by Caffe Milano.  Valrhona also markets a range of organic-certified chocolates called Cao Grande.

The pack contains information in five languages.  The Guanaja pack describes the chocolate as follows: “Named after the now-famous Caribbean island where Christopher Columbus landed in 1502, Guanaja offers a completely original blend of cocoas, with subtle Criollos, and powerfully fragrant Trinitarios and Forasteros. This Grand Cru has a high cocoa content and is surprisingly bitter, but the range is full of warm notes.  The recipe, of course, remains a closely guarded secret”

Vanessa says she uses Valrhona because she used it at the restaurants she worked at in New York, including Le Cirque.   Its quality is consistent, the Valrhona rep flies down to Cape Town four to five times a year, it is used by the best pastry chefs in the world, the Valrhona pastry chef guides professional users, and they have a cook book.  Valrhona has a very low-key retail presence internationally, unlike Lindt, for example.

POSTSCRIPT 27/4: Vanessa Quellec leaves Caffe Milano in July, and is heading for Valrhona in France, where she will undergo training in the use of their chocolates.  She plans to return to Cape Town as a representative of the company.  Giorgio Nava will bring in an Italian pastry chef.

Valrhona, www.valrhona.com.  Available from Caffé Milano, 153 Kloof Street, Cape Town, and The Wild Peacock Emporium, 32 Piet Retief Street, Stellenbosch. 

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com  Twitter: @WhaleCottage