Whilst in the midst of a scorching heatwave, you’d think chocolate would be the last thing on the mind.
However, the lure of a building dedicated to perfection in cocoa (and with very strong air conditioning) proved irresistible.
We were in the Northern Rhone, deep in French wine country. But the small town of Tain-l’Hermitage is not just home to big, bold red wines, it’s also the home of Valrhona chocolate, who are well known in the culinary world for producing high quality chocolate for baking.
Driving down from Lyon, we ducked out of the heat into the Cite du Chocolat Valrhona, a museum and teaching centre.
The first part of the museum consisted of sitting down for an automated but interactive tasting demonstration. There were four different chocolates to taste, starting with two milk chocolate squares and followed by a station which dispensed two dark squares.
You need to ensure you keep hold of your entrance ticket, as this is scanned to release the precious chocolate!
The tasting itself involves a mini quiz where you have to taste the chocolate in two stages and try to answer the questions about aroma and taste correctly.
It then shows you how far off from the master tasters you were.
It served as an excellent way of showing the differences between the different chocolates and the flavours in each. I’d not really thought about tasting chocolate in this way before, but I found myself using the method later on in my trip.
There are many other exhibits, like mini quizzes, which reward you with a chocolate ‘couverture’ if you get the questions right. A couverture is a higher grade of chocolate used by professionals and is usually melted and tempered for use in chocolate deserts.
Larger groups can book demonstrations and tutorials of such processes in the kitchen area, which also serves as a pastry school for aspiring gourmets too.
The museum is not too long but there are enough interactive exhibits to make you feel like you have learned something as well as getting to taste a lot if chocolate, if you want to.
The superb shop signals the end of the tour. Even in this shop you’ll be able to try before you buy – selecting one of the many flavours they offer.
Very surprising to both of us were the fruit-based chocolates, which had an incredible depth of flavour. This level of intensity would be difficult to achieve so I can see why professional pastry chefs would swear by such time-saving cheats!
A ticket at €9 each was epic value considering the quality and quantity of the chocolate on offer inside (you definitely don’t need to worry about not getting enough samples…).
We left with full bellies but not full shopping bags as we didn’t think the product would last in the 45 degree heat.
I fully recommend a trip to the Cite du Chocolat if you find yourself with a spare hour along the Rhone.