Issue 32: Salon du Chocolat
When I used to live in Paris, I remember that every year there would be a chocolate festival down in the Carrousel du Louvre, a small shopping area underneath the famous Louvre Museum. As I didn’t care much for chocolate at the time, I never really stopped to look. I know now that this was the early days of the Salon du Chocolat.
The Salon du Chocolat is the world’s largest event dedicated to chocolate, which takes place every year in Paris. There are also versions in other cities around the world, but the largest of them is in Paris. This year it took place at Place de Versaille in a conference centre over two full levels. To put it into perspective, I spent four full days at the event, so there is a lot happening.
I was one of thousands of people visiting. Last issue, I introduced the Bean to Bar France association and some of its members that I met at the Salon. Here I thought I’d bring you with me on a tour of the Salon. Next week, I’ll introduce you to some of the people I met at the Salon.
The space is massive and is an amazing place to experience all the different sides of chocolate. This includes, but is not limited to:
Farmers, cooperatives, countries and individuals growing, sourcing and selling cocoa beans to prospective chocolate makers
Companies selling equipment and materials needed to transform cacao beans into chocolate
A selection of craft chocolate makers taking high quality cocoa beans and transforming them into chocolate
Chocolate makers that take use bulk chocolate to create all sorts of sweets made from chocolate, in every shape and size you can imagine (and then some).
Chocolatiers who take couverture chocolate and turn it into amazing creations. There were several competitions to find the world’s best chocolatier, best sugar artist, best pastry artist, best pain au chocolate, so there was some amazing talent here.
Companies that make ingredients that go into chocolate such as nuts
Some talks and educational events (but not nearly as much as they could have (should have?)
Luckily, I had a press pass which allowed me to go anywhere and everywhere. So, I did!
There were a few things that struck me from my time at the Salon.
First, everything is all mixed together. Craft chocolate makers are selling beautiful bars at $10 euros next to stands with massive piles of cheap chocolate for a just few euros. There is little information for visitors to distinguish, or even understand the differences between the two. Although the mix allowed consumers who wouldn’t usually buy craft to stop at some craft chocolate stands, I noticed most were simply confused. I heard a lot of “It’s expensive over there, let’s go over here”.
Second, and connected to this, there wasn’t a lot of education more generally. Many stands had information, and the people at the stands were all more than willing to share information about the stories behind chocolate. But the Salon itself doesn’t offer much to help for consumers manage their way around all the different chocolate offerings and price points. They had some talks, but not enough in my opinion.
Third, if you want to learn something, visit the stands that no one is visiting. There was generally an inverse correlation between popularity of stand and quality of chocolate or information. The people selling craft chocolate at the Salon were, in most cases, the makers themselves. These are celebrities in the craft chocolate world. They will gladly tell you everything you didn’t realise you didn’t know about chocolate, and let you taste! That isn’t the case with the big chocolate brands, who hire staff to represent the brand.
Fourth, there is a lot of chocolate in the world. Obviously, I already knew this, but seeing so much of it all I the same place was impressive? Overwhelming? Exciting? Scary? I’m not sure which one. Consider that chocolate comes from a fruit, a tree. This is a lot of chocolate, meaning a lot of cocoa beans, meaning a lot of farmers growing beans, and this is only one tiny drop in the chocolate ocean. Then consider how cheap the chocolate was being sold for (really cheap, too cheap). If I were a cocoa farmer, I think I would have a heart attack visiting Salon. Granted, much of the cheap chocolate has very little chocolate in it (10% in some cases, it’s mostly sugar and other ingredients), but still.
Fifth, and perhaps the most important, chocolate is pretty amazing. The eating part yes, but here I’m talking about the chocolate world. The packaging, the colours, the shapes, the artistry, the skill and how it brings together farmers, chefs, artists, consumers, entrepreneurs. I’m glad I’ve found my way into this world.
Tips for visiting the Salon du Chocolat
Go on the first day. It is less busy and the people at the stands are fresh and excited. They also have better samples to share.
Avoid weekends. it gets VERY busy. If you must go then, visit first thing in the morning.
Don’t stop at the first stands you see as you enter. Try to plan your time and do a walk around before filling yourself up with the free chocolate samples at the start. They aren’t necessarily the best ones.
Connected to that, be selective in what you sample. Just because it is being offered, and it’s free, it doesn’t mean that you should eat it. There is excellent chocolate on offer.
Bring a bottle of water and some actual food. There isn’t much for sale there and at some point your body will need something other than chocolate.
If you haven’t spent $10 on a craft chocolate bar before, go try some craft chocolate, then you will understand why it costs more.
Bring money (cash) and spend it on chocolate you wouldn’t usually be able to get in Paris. Don’t use it to buy big chunks. You can get those anywhere. Use it to try/support a part of the chocolate world that you haven’t before.
Aim to visit one cocoa farmer/association, one couverture chocolate maker, one confectionary maker, one craft chocolate maker (who takes beans and turns them into chocolate), a chocolatier (someone who takes chocolate and turns it into confections), one talk, one chocolate competition.
There are other Salon du Chocolat around the world, in particular in the Middle East and across Asia. I’d love to attend the ones in Japan and/or Seoul. Something to add to my chocolate bucket list.
Thanks for reading and have a great week!
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