Valrhona, the City of Chocolate in Tain L’Hermitage
By Kevin Bonnaud
There is a nothing more frustrating than visiting a museum featuring food or drink and not being able to taste it (for free).
Gourmets will not be disappointed by going to Valrhona’s City of Chocolate, The chocolate waterfall, the size of a wall, next after the ticketing says it all. The tour is for gourmets as fifteen tastings are proposed in this museum, a must-see for tourists and foodies just one hour from Lyon.
“The knowledge of chocolate begins with appreciating its tastes: bitter, sour, sweet, fruity, salty”, says Frank Vidal, manager of the City of Chocolate.
Valrhona, the place to know everything from cocoa to chocolate
Visitors place themselves in front of tasting stations, watch a video explaining how they should taste chocolate, then the terminal delivers chocolate squares like a cash machine which make young and old foodies very happy.
The tour stimulates all senses through interactive games. The public select flavors that match the most with chocolate, guess which chocolate dessert refers to smooth or rough textures, strong or sharp sounds. You hear someone crushing a chocolate bar or eating chocolate mousse with a spoon.
There is often something to learn from each activity like the fact that the percentage of cocoa does not change the chocolate’s flavor.
“The level of cocoa makes little difference and cocoa butter has no taste at all, just as a high level of alcohol doesn’t necessary make a good wine”, Franck Vidal told This Is Lyon.
Chocolate is usually made with white sugar (34%), cocoa butter (27%), dried milk (23%) and cocoa nibs (14%).
The rest of the museum outlines the production process starting with the work within cocoa plantations.
Short videos made by producers from Madagascar give details about harvest, fermentation and drying.
Learn how to make chocolate from A to Z at Valrhona
Visitors hear that pods containing cocoa beans grow on the trunks of cocoa trees. They must be planted near banana trees.
“Small cocoa seedlings needs shade, which means larger trees have to be there throughout the growing process. When the cocoa tree reaches 3 meters, the banana tree is cut down and replaced by an even larger tree”, Vidal explains.
Then, the public discovers the different manufacturing steps. Flushing, roasting, crushing (beans are transformed into cocoa nibs), grinding, sugaring and conching (flavor is refined through blending for days).
The manufacturing process is as relevant as the origin of cocoas. “A longer roast can give very different flavors, even if the original cocoa is the same”.
The best recipes can come from an act of thoughtlessness. Valrhona’s blond chocolate was created few years ago when a chocolate heated way too long: the chocolate changed color and tasted great according to Frederic Bau, Valrhona’s creative director.
Valrhona, a 100-year-old luxury brand in Tain L’Hermitage
Frederic Bau, one of the best pastry chefs in the world, founded Valrhona’s chocolate school in 1989 to offer training programs to food professionals teaching them the factory’s culinary expertise.
Back then, Valrhona was mainly known as an international supplier of luxury chocolates. As of today, the brand has over 20,000 clients worldwide.
The success story has begun in 1922 when Albéric Guironnet, a pastry chef from Tournon-sur-Rhône crossed the Rhone river to settle in Tain L’Hermitage.
The opening of the City of Chocolate, in 2013, was part of an effort to reach out to a wider audience, as fine food has become very popular on TV and elsewhere.
“Our goal is to extend people’s knowledge by showing them how and by whom chocolate (they are so addicted to) is made”.
Lovers of French patisserie can learn how to cook chocolate mousse (9 euros) and macaroons (34 euros), taste and bring them home during workshops.
You can also attend a half-day cooking class in Valrhona’s school to make brownies, cookies and chocolate spreads (100 euros). There is also food and wine pairing workshops with 6 chocolates and 3 wines from the Rhone Valley (17 euros).