FrontRunners: Chocolate Salut

Sophisticated chocoholics know where to get their fix, and it has nothing to do with a trip to Pennsylvania. Those who take their cocoa as seriously as their wine have come to appreciate the gastronomic standards implemented by France’s Valrhona chocolatiers (310.277.0401, www.valrhona.com).

The company employs the same cultivation techniques as fine wine producers and labels its products with cocoa concentration—usually upwards of 60 percent—in the same way that vintners specify alcohol volume. As part of the process, exacting buyers journey to far-flung cocoa plantations in Venezuela, the Caribbean, and Papua New Guinea to hand-inspect raw cocoa beans. They scrutinize the terroir—looking for soil that is moist and a climate that is hot and humid—as well as the beans’ fermentation and drying processes.

Valrhona’s confections are identified by origin, much as wine and Champagne are classified by grape and vineyard. For example, estate-grown Gran Couva chocolate, which is very aromatic and has a saffron aftertaste, is named for its Trinidad plantation. Each bar of this limited edition chocolate is stamped with the vintage year, just as wines are. No doubt, Valrhona is the most dignified way to go cocoa loco.

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