If there is one thing that Belgium is famous for – it’s Belgian chocolate. Walking along the streets of Brussels you see hundreds of chocolate shops, all luring you in with shopping windows of chocolate fountains and amazing chocolate-art. I’m a sucker for chocolate, so you can imagine how excited I was to be taking a chocolate tasting workshop to one of the most famous chocolatiers in the country: Laurent Gerbaud.
While talking to Laurent, I quickly realize that although I love chocolate more than anyone I know (until I met Laurent, that is), I know absolutely nothing about it.
Apparently, I’m not alone: “Most people have no idea about chocolate – they think the only difference is cocoa percentage, whether it’s dark, white or milk chocolate – but that’s far from the truth”, says Laurent, while explaining that chocolate is even more elusive than wine.
“Once you’ve tasted really good chocolate, you’ll never go back”, he says with a wink in the eye, but I know he means it. Laurent took us “behind the scenes” of the chocolate boutique, to the kitchen where they make it all happen. What fascinates me the most is the passion Laurent shows when he talks about chocolate and his business, and his excitement when describing different flavors he has experimented with.
It was fun to see how it all worked, but the best part was of course the chocolate tasting. We sit down at a table with a glass of water (the best drink to really taste the different flavors), and Laurent brings us a plate each with chocolate pralines. We begin with a small piece of chocolate, and slowly move clockwise, taking our time to taste every praline on the plate. The first chocolate piece was nice, but nothing special – I was actually slightly disappointed, but then Laurent explained that the chocolate I just had was the “bad” one, put there to give us an idea of what the average chocolate you normally eat tastes like compared to good chocolate. As we tasted the pralines one by one, we tried some of the most amazing combinations, and got a whole new perspective on chocolate.
I never knew just how many variables are in play to create chocolate, and to have it all there in front of you and be able to compare each type of chocolate, from South American to African cacao, special combinations and so on – was eye-opening.
I had secretly been wishing that Laurent would be wrong with his promise that I would no longer enjoy normal chocolate after the tasting, because before the tasting I was happy with the chocolate I used to eat – and it was cheaper.
But in a way, sadly, he was right. It doesn’t have to be the best chocolate in the world, but there is a clear difference between “better” chocolate and stuff like Toblerone, which just doesn’t taste the same anymore. Luckily, I had this epiphany in a country which was full of the best chocolate in the world, and could indulge (almost) guiltlessly in chocolate for the next 8 days, so I didn’t feel too bad about it 😉 For chocolate addicts like me, I would definitely recommend a chocolate tasting workshop next time you’re in Belgium, you’ll eat so much chocolate that you will skip dinner!
Belgium Travel Guide – What You Need To Know
No one can deny that Belgium is one of the smallest countries in Europe, but this doesn’t mean that there is nothing to see or do there, on the contrary!
Every city in Belgium preserves a longstanding history, preserved and cherished within numerous monuments, cathedrals and castles. Being located on the crossroad of many European pathways, this country has experienced an impact of its closest neighbors, which created and shaped the Belgian culture. Belgium has many Gothic cathedrals, castles and citadels erected in the Middle Ages period, marvelous beach resorts, abundant holdings of fine arts museums and amazing city festivals.
Brussels is the capital of Belgium and simultaneously its major historic center – it is a mix of royal touch and momentous architecture. Every excursion around Brussels won’t be accomplished without visiting places such as Grand Place and City Hall (rectangular square honored to be one of the most beautiful in the world, rounded by houses of the 17th century); Manneken Pis or Little Man Pee (a true symbol of the city, created in 1619); Royal Palace and Royal Greenhouse and Gothic St. Michael Cathedral (constructed in the 13-16th centuries), Atomium (modern symbol of Brussels).
Antwerp is a city of art and jewelry, besides magnificent architecture of different historic periods – in particular, it is a native home for numerous world-known Flemish painters, among which Peter Paul Rubens has taken leadership. Rubens House is one of the most visited places in the city; the artist has designed its style and façade being inspired with Italian culture, and to date it is transformed into a city museum. It introduces both Rubens living and the studio, where he worked. The other Antwerp attraction is the Diamond District, where these luxury gems are manufactured, traded and evaluated.
Bruges or Northern Venice might be characterized with miraculous city landscapes, comprised of lovely facades and crossing channels. It is a real chocolate paradise, where there are lots of manufacturing facilities, fountains gushing this exquisite sweet stuff and regular chocolate contests all year round. Additionally, Bruges is a city where the number of monuments and museums can outrange the number of residents. Museum of Chocolate and Groeningemuseum have the biggest popularity. This medieval town, specifically its historic part, was even added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Ghent received a nickname of the “city of flowers” due to being surrounded with vast flower fields and gardens. While paying a visit to this city, it is of must-see character to attend Gravensteen or “castles of the count” performed in the 12th century, St. Bavo Cathedral founded in 942 and improved in the Gothic age (decorated with Ghent chancel made by Jan van Eyck) and of course lots of fine arts and archeological museums. Ghent is also famous for Gentse Feesten – the biggest European festival of music and theatrical performances.
(photo credit: 1)