Toy soldiers, trains, presents, chocolate, bows – all fine stuff of childhood. Mass-marketers understand this and often sell us charmingly quaint packaging with nothing but chalk-like chocolate inside. In Quebec, roadsigns led me up a steep hill to a mini-chocolate factory guarded by this guy:
I feared the worst. Chunky sentry like these are cherished by every boy who ever looked under a Christmas tree and every little girl who ever attended The Nutcracker ballet. How dare this alpine chocolate shop be so bold with its icons? How dare it manipulate me with giant sentinels, reminiscent of ancient castles, ornaments, and the antique painted soldier chess set in my living room (a treasure from my husband’s boyhood)? Inside the shop, more provocative visuals: ribbon-knotted chocolate hearts,
cute little lolli’s for toddlers and sophisticated, thin-mint stacks for grown-ups. Guilelessly, we gobble up romantic, by-gone lures of kitsch and color for the dark, sweet promise of chocolate. In the middle of a deep arctic freeze in Canada, the cynic in me melted. Chocolaterie La Cabosse d’Or offered a garden of gourmet bonbons beneath all the irresistible packaging. Bonbons with thoughtful flavor. Curated flavor. Full-bodied sweet balanced by an earthy back-bite of bitter. Further along in the shop were view-in windows to the kitchen: whirring melters, enrobers, cooling belts, sticky trays, smeared molds, workers with hairnets and beard guards, wash buckets on the floor – all the beautiful, dirty work of chocolate production. They even have a little museum of chocolate history. The couverture is Belgian – nuanced and accessible; cakes are garnished with crushed macarons as only students of fine patisserie might fully appreciate; the mousses are flawlessly smooth with no gummy aftertaste; sponge cakes are moist without a heavy soak of cheap booze or bottled syrup.
Here’s advice for finding quality confection underneath it all: look for hand-tied, not machine-stamped, bows; variety; playfulness amid uniform displays; a little soul. And try to manage a taste (buy one bonbon) to evaluate before splurging on the big box, the many mini cakes and the irresistible gift boxes for the aunties and uncles, cousins and those others in your life who long for a taste of childhood. If you find that shop that serves quality with kitsch like I did along the road to Quebec last week, visit often and buy a lot.