Chocolate Meets Le Fromage? Alors! It's a New Paris Match
A taste of Hevin? One brave Frenchman stages a collision of a culture's culinary staples.
The shop window at Jean Paul Hevin's emporium in the chic 7th arrondissement looks more like a jeweler's than a chocolatier's - each hand-rolled truffle, each fruit-studded bite looks much more like a gem than a bonbon.
And lurking within the sumptuous display is an offering that can only be described as something of a rough diamond: Cheese-flavored chocolates.
Not cream-cheese chocolates, or cottage-cheese chocolates, or chocolates made from any other sort of cheese that you might think could be disguised behind a strong dose of cacao. But camembert chocolates, goat-cheese chocolates, even pungent Roquefort chocolates.
Mr. Hevin, one of France's up-and-coming young chocolatiers, first put his new invention on sale at Christmas, but only after nine months of meticulous experimentation, mixing different quantities of cheese, cream, chocolate and spices "to find the right harmony" as he puts it.
Hevin explains that "the idea came to me one day at lunch," as so many ideas seem to do in this country.
Pressed for time as he hurried to devise a new confection, he popped a piece of chocolate into his mouth before he had fully swallowed his last bite of cheese. The sensation intrigued him.
It did not intrigue the first audience before which he unveiled his creation last fall, the Chocolate Munchers' Club.
"It was a catastrophe," Hevin recalls. "People really didn't like them."
A niche among the curious
But true innovators do not let a little public incomprehension get in their way. "The problem was that I presented the cheese chocolates at the end of the tasting, after the sweet ones," he insists. "They don't taste good at all with sweet things."
So when do they taste good? "On their own, between meals, but absolutely not with coffee or dessert," Hevin suggests.
That would seem to limit the market somewhat: It is rare that the average consumer - even among Hevin's well-heeled clientele - is seized in the middle of the afternoon by a desire for a cheesy chocolate. Especially not at $25 for a half-pound.
But Hevin hopes to find a niche nonetheless "amongst curious people - they find this amusing," he says. "About 60 percent of people who have tried these chocolates like them, 30 percent have their reservations, and perhaps 10 percent don't like them."
Claude Chazalon, a customer encouraged to taste the novelties one afternoon last week, would probably fall into the category with "reservations."
"I would never have thought of mixing the two tastes, but after all, why not?" he said as he delicately picked up a chocolate between two fingers.
'A not-unpleasant taste'
Spoken like a true gastronome. And while he found the camembert-cream too bland, the Roquefort appealed to him more. "First you taste the cheese, then the chocolate, and then your mouth fills with the mixture. It is surprising, but not disagreeable."
Mr. Chazalon's preference for the stronger, cheesier version, is not uncommon, according to Hevin. "I was afraid of overdoing the cheese, but it turns out that people want these chocolates to taste of something, they want the real taste."
Remarkably, on being offered a taste-test of my own, I found myself among their number. There is indeed an unlikely harmony between the blue-veined Roquefort - softened by cream and white chocolate, enlivened by Szechuan pepper and walnuts - and the dark chocolate that smothers it. It is not an unpleasant taste, but it did not inspire me to buy a bagful.
Hevin is decidedly more enthusiastic. "This is just the beginning," he warns. "I've just started doing things like this but I'm sure there are extraordinary things to be done with chocolate.
"Today these chocolates may seem like a folly. But tomorrow they could become a classic."