Jan 23, 2015

Ancient Hot Chocolate: La Truffe


I cannot say my girls have never met a cup of hot chocolate they didn't like because, well, they both poo-poohed a $20 cup (each) of French, traditional-style hot chocolate after one sip. Too rich, too thick, too intense, too much. Too much money, that's for sure.

The trick then is to find the chocolat chaud à l'ancienne -- hot chocolate in the traditional style -- that works for them. Wallet-wise, we're happy the $20 cups don't float their boat. And no, we didn't realize before we promised them the hot chocolates at the fancy shop on Ile St. Louis, La Charlotte de l'Isle, just how much they would cost.

The shop, on our own little island, is one of the most charming places in the city for hot chocolate. Sweet little ambience, and decadent pots of chocolat chaud. In the tradition of the famously ornate Angelique's, where Coco Chanel used to take her daily drink of the stuff (and now tourists queue up for the chance to empty their wallets), this beverage -- if you can call it that -- is practically a solid. At the very least, it's more like a chocolate bar warmed up and oozing into your cup than a liquid. It's definitely not the same beverage as a Swiss Miss packet mix of hot chocolate; that is actually hot cocoa, as in cocoa powder, not hot chocolate.

Around the city, for a more modest price, you can get different versions of the stuff. With whipped cream or without, and in just one place, even mini-marshmallows (but this is so very un-French).

The ones that work the best for us are the cafés that serve it up in two separate pots: a bigger one filled with hot milk, and a small one filled with pure, melted dark chocolate -- sometimes sweetened, sometimes not. It's up to you to mix them as you wish, like a mad scientist. This, of course, is at least half the fun, and also ensures that you get just the ratio you like, adding sugar as necessary. Le Select, in the 7th arrondissement charges about 6€ per person, but gives you enough milk and chocolate for at least two or three people for that money. But only one mug -- that's the rub.

Even with the inevitable waste, not only is the milk-and-chocolate style less intense, thick, and rich than the big pots at Charlotte's or Angelique's, it has the added benefit of being less expensive. It's about the same price, however, as the myriad of non-luxe cafés who serve their chocolat chaud à l'ancienne in one combined pot, roughly 4-8€, depending on the location and ambience of the café.


Sold to me as, simply La Truffe, this raw goats' milk, farmhouse cheese is known more completely as La Truffe de Ventadour, a reference to the Ventadour castle area from which it hails, in the department of Corrèze, region of Limousin, in central France.

Its name, which means "the truffle", is a reference to its shape -- like a big, rough, dark, lumpy, blackened fungus, the tuber melanosporum, specifically. The blackness is actually ash, and there's no real fungus among us, but there is mold -- some lovely geotricum wrinkles on the delicate crust.

The goats in the area of Corrèze must be happy ones, judging from the constant output of high quality goat cheeses. They almost give the happy goats of the Poitou-Charentes region a run for their money. The taste of the herbs and cereal grains from their summer pastures comes through in the creamy interior -- salty, herby, and more sweet than stinky, but still flavorful.

The maker of this particular cheese leads the goats, with his dog by his side, on walks up to 3km across his property in the dry season to wetter pastures of some local swampland and moors. In the winter, they eat hay and grains harvested from the farm.


Black truffles are sold downstairs from me at 180€ / 100g, which is very convenient if I have sudden truffle needs. [Author's note: I just corrected this, thanks to the astute observation of one of my readers. I originally wrote 180€ / kg, which would be about $91/lb. In fact, I was off by a factor of ten, and the real price is $910/lb. You know something's too expensive for you when it seems outrageously expensive at 1/10th the actual price.]

Truth be known, I'm more likely to fulfill my truffle needs with this cheese, which is often available just down the block, at the Aubin Creamery cheese shop on Ile St. Louis, halfway towards Charlotte en l'Ile, at a much more reasonable 8€ or so for the roughly tennis-ball sized lump. And truth really be known, I'm even more likely to fill my truffle cravings with chocolate, which I can usually find somewhere in my cabinet (cold) or downstairs at a café (hot).


  1. I'd rather take my kids for hot chocolate instead of truffles at that price.


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