21 Ultimate Gifts: How Sweet It Is
A shipment of $200 worth of Michel Cluizel chocolate, selected by you from the company’s range of offerings, every week for the rest of your life.
A chocolate room for your home designed by Richard Perl, Cluizel’s CEO and sommelier of chocolate, and a tutorial from Perl on how to better appreciate fine chocolate.
A private tour of the Cluizel factory in Damville, France, with Michel Cluizel himself as your guide.
Four original chocolate desserts created exclusively for you by Cluizel chef Belinda Ber and then sent to your home.
Price: $4 million
Richard Perl Nibbled his way into his position as CEO and chocolate sommelier for Chocolat Michel Cluizel North America. Since childhood, he had pursued ever-finer forms of chocolate, finally ending his quest in 1991 at a San Francisco shop. There he tasted a bar made by the French chocolatier Michel Cluizel that contained 99 percent cocoa. “It was ghastly bitter, but smooth, with amazing cacao. I bought every one in the store,” he says. “Since then, Cluizel has been my favorite chocolatier, bar none, no pun intended.”
Perl subsequently made several trips to Paris to buy Cluizel chocolate and also befriended the company’s U.S. distributor. Then two years ago, he introduced company founder Michel Cluizel to a friend who owned a Manhattan storefront that Perl felt would be ideal for the chocolatier’s first U.S. store. Cluizel, who was in Manhattan for a trade show, told Perl through an interpreter that he would sign the rental contract on the condition that Perl partner with Cluizel on the venture, because, Cluizel said, “you speak chocolate like a language.”
In his role as Cluizel’s chocolate sommelier, Perl teaches chocolate-appreciation classes, where he discusses the history of chocolate and highlights its nuances by presenting a range of milks, darks, and smoothly blended chocolates, and distinctly flavored single-plantation products. “We’ll figure out what you like in chocolate,” says the 49-year-old Manhattanite, adding that often his students are pleasantly surprised by what they learn about their own tastes. “Some people who think they like only milk chocolate find that they like dark chocolate—that the bitter flavor resonates with them.”
The Robb Report reader who purchases this gift can choose the contents of each weekly delivery from among Cluizel’s bonbons, bars, tasting boxes, and such novelties as prescription cocoa nibs: roasted cacao beans that have been crushed, covered in dark chocolate, and packaged in orange pharmacy pill bottles. Also, you can redirect the deliveries as you wish. For example, you can arrange a monthly schedule in which you receive the first shipment while sending the second to your mother, the third to your sister, and the fourth to a colleague.
The chocolate will need to be properly kept, so Perl will design a chocolate room for your home. The room will provide ideal conditions for the chocolate: a temperature from the mid-50s to the low 60s and a humidity level of 58 percent. “It can be a chocolate den, with chocolate memorabilia on the walls, a jewel-case fridge with chocolate on display, and a table for tastings,” says Perl.
This gift could prove bittersweet, and not because it might threaten your waistline. It could ruin your taste for the mass-market candy bars that filled your trick-or-treat bag (“If they don’t mark the cocoa percentage [on the wrapper] they have something to hide,” Perl says), as well as for some of the more expensive offerings that rely on certain ingredients. “Many brands, including some good brands, use emulsifiers such as soy lecithin, which detract from the purity and the experience of eating the chocolate,” says Perl. “When you have a sophisticated palate, you taste it right away.”
Chocolat Michel Cluizel
most of the world’s chocolate is derived from cocoa grown on more than one plantation, and sometimes from chocolate grown in more than one region of the world. Each of a line of Michel Cluizel chocolate bars, however, comes from the yield of a single plantation. Cluizel debuted three of these offerings in 1997, each named for its home plantation: Concepcion, which is in Venezuela’s Barlovento Valley; Los Anconès, located on the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo; and Mangaro, in Madagascar. The company eventually added two more chocolates to the collection: Tamarina, from the west African island of São Tomé, and Papua New Guinea’s Maralumi. Cluizel CEO and chocolate sommelier Richard Perl will feature these bars in his private tasting lesson, and any of them can be included in this gift’s weekly deliveries.
Single-plantation chocolate’s flavor is vastly different from the milk chocolate of a Hershey bar, and for some, it is a taste they never acquire. Speaking about Mangaro, Perl says, “I’ve had people say it’s the finest they’ve ever had, and I’ve had others say, ‘God, that’s weird.’ ” Like wine, single-plantation chocolate reflects the soil and the climate in which the cacao beans are grown. “Those who really want to taste the plant and taste the bean [will want] single-plantation chocolate,” says Perl, “but not everybody is ready for that.”