Chocolate Appreciation Society (Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat)

Chocolates

A little over a year ago, I received the kind of phone call that makes you beam for hours on end, unable (and not really willing, either) to peel the smile off your face: I had just been admitted as a member of the Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat, a famous French chocolate appreciation society I’d been dreaming of joining for years.

Created in the early eighties, when chocolate and chocolatiers didn’t get nearly as much attention and respect as they do now, the Club aims to bring together chocolate enthusiasts for tastings, promote the worthiest of artisans, and share its findings with non-members via a website, yearly awards, and a guide to France’s best chocolatiers.

The Club has one hundred and fifty members at all times. Some of them are food professionals — chocolatiers, pastry chefs, restaurateurs, writers, journalists… — but many are from completely different walks of life — fitness coaches, historians, nurses, photographers… — their only common denominator being a long-standing passion for chocolate.

It can take a while to get your foot in the door of this particular Club, as you have to be sponsored by two current members, write a letter of motivation, and then wait for a seat to become available. But I think the format can be adopted by any group of friends or coworkers committed to fueling their chocolate obsession, so I thought I’d tell you about it in a little more detail in case it inspires you to create your own local society.

Chocolates

The tastings are held every other month around a particular theme (chocolatiers from Japan, fruit and herb pairings, chocolates flavored with tea, coffee, or alcohol…) and at each meeting we taste about a dozen chocolates, usually from as many different chocolatiers, as listed on the day’s programme handed out to each member.

Most often it’s what chocolatiers call bonbons de chocolat, i.e. chocolate bites garnished with a ganache, praline, or fruit filling, but the occasional session is devoted to other types of chocolate items, such as chocolate mousses, chocolate ice cream, or bûches de Noël.

Programme

We sit in freely assembled groups at large tables, and the chocolates are brought in batches of three or four on serving plates, one piece of each kind for each person at the table. The host — it’s usually Club president Jacques Pessis — announces which chocolate is which, we help ourselves, and then it’s tasting time!

Each member has his own M.O. I like to slice each chocolate bite in half to look at its inner construction, and to be able to get a first taste of it, and then a second if I feel like it needs more investigation. It also means I only eat half of some, which is important if I want to last through the entire tasting with fresh taste buds. I jot down some notes, too, with a tiny sketch of the chocolate and whatever strikes me about it.

(You can also read my related post on How to taste chocolate.)

In between chocolates, we cleanse our palate with glasses of fresh still water and/or bites of Poilâne bread — Apollonia Poilâne sits on the Club’s board, and is among its most active members.

Bread

After each batch, we discuss our thoughts and opinions on the flavors, textures, strength, subtlety, and balance of what we’ve just tasted, before the host says a few words to the whole room, and prompts comments from the tables. All artisans are invited to attend the sessions, and when they’re able to, we get the chance to listen to them discuss their craft, which is always a treat.

Naturally, tastings of this scale are made possible because the Club is now over thirty years old and well established. It would be harder to pull off such an organization if you’re just starting out as a group of motivated friends, but the format can be certainly be simplified and adapted to your means and access.

Perhaps you can visit a single chocolatier from your area and make a selection from his creations, or have your members bring back samples from local chocolatiers when they travel. You can also place orders online, or you can do a comparative tasting of the chocolate bars — gourmet and/or mainstream — available at the stores near you.

The point is to have a good time, but be serious about the tasting itself: ideally, you would see it as an opportunity to educate your taste buds, not gorge on chocolate willy-nilly. You’ll benefit from the insights and opinions of your tasting companions, and it is also a good way to share the costs of procuring hard-to-find or special-order chocolates you might not otherwise justify buying just for yourself.

Chocolates

From a practical perspective, you should hold the tasting in a well-ventilated, well-lit, smell-free room, not too cold and not too hot, in late morning or early evening when you’re just a little hungry, but not ravenous. It’s best to avoid drinking coffee or smoking before (or worse, during) the session.

Do you belong to any similar club, and is this something you’ve considered before, on the subject of chocolate or other fine foods or beverages*? I’d love to hear about your experience!

(You can also read my related post on How to taste chocolate.)

* Beyond the classic tastings of wine, beer, or other alcoholic drinks, you can group-taste pretty much any kind of product, as Louise does on her blog Raids Pâtisseries, or the Figaroscope team with its regular palmarès.

  • Stephanie

    Congratulations! I am a little jealous. I had never heard of this society and it sounds like an amazing opportunity. I love wine but I would take a session of chocolate tasting over wine tasting on any given day.

  • Kristine

    I am excited for you, and will live vicariously through your good luck and good taste buds.

  • http://www.joeinvegas.blogspot.com/ joeinvegas

    Oh, it sounds marvelous (from a chocolate lover)

  • http://www.flourchildren.blogspot.com Rhi@FlourChild

    I was a member of the “Chocolate Appreciation Society” at Uni in Australia, years and years ago, but it was very much aimed at “gorging yourself” … The club was sponsored by Cadbury or Nestle or something atrocious, and we all pigged out for an hour once a month. Makes me sick just thinking about it!
    No way near as delicious or civilised as yours sounds. Congratulations!

  • Amy

    Chocolate and Polaine bread?! This sounds like an amazing club (no wonder it has a wait list!).

  • http://www.shockmd.com Walter van den Broek (@DrShock)

    Very jealous. May be you could direct them to my blog and posts on the favorable effects of chocolate on so many things but mostly the cardiovascular system. Enjoy and take care Dr Shock

  • Marielle

    Congratulations!

    Enjoyed a rerun last night on television. Your 2008 episode on Andrew Zimmerns Paris show.

    Met you that same year at Froggy’s in Highwood, IL on your first ever book tour. A fun luncheon.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      How fun, Marielle, it’s been a while since that lunch!

  • http://theshadypine.blogspot.com/ Anna @ the shady pine

    Congratulations on joining what sounds a very prestigious club. I am in favour of any such club that promotes and preserves the traditions of our foods and produce.

  • http://michael-booth.com Michael Booth

    You say it as if gorging willy-nilly on chocolate is a bad thing!

  • http://baketomake.wordpress.com Maya

    I’m waiting for the day that I get invited to an exclusive chocolate club!

  • Tina

    Heaven

  • http://parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com parisbreakfast

    BRAVO!
    Excellent accomplishment that many dream of achieving.

  • http://www.sunshineandsmile.com Kankana

    Congrats and i can only imagine how it must be like to see your own dreams coming true :)
    Chocolate tasting and cleansing palate with Poilâne bread! that sounds so much fun!

  • http://lemontarteinparis.blogspot.com Lemon

    Congratulations! I did quite some chocolate tasting, but in a very informal way. What an excellent idea, organizing this with some friends, as a starting point. It would be great if you can share additional insights of the Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat in another post, some time later.

  • http://blog.mineralifeonline.com/wordpress/ Neil | Butterfield

    congratulations on being accepted into the club. I am a great chocolate fan myself.

  • http://www.reviewsofblenders.com Nichole

    HOW EXCITING! That sounds like such an awesome society to be a part of.

  • http://www.honeyfromrock.blogspot.com Claudia

    I belong to a very exclusive Chocolate tasting club. I grow and process the stuff, and have a friend who is also growing it, and has made the equipment investment. We get together periodically and make some really fantastic chocolates. On a more ordinary day to day basis, I just grind and make a cocoa drink with my cacao.

  • Irish Al

    Imagine if, as well as the chocolate, everyone was nude.

    JUST IMAGINE IT.

  • http://www.mangiandobene.com mangiandobene

    OMG i just found out about this society! I would love to become a member, as I think that chocolate is he food of the gods!

  • Kate

    I couldn’t see anywhere on the website – how much does membership actually cost? Or do the chocolatiers submit chocolates gratis to woo customers?

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      There is a yearly membership fee to pay, to cover the organizational costs, but I’m not entirely sure what the agreement is with chocolatiers who send their goods to be tasted. I’ll find out!

  • http://www.birchbarkfarm.com Jill Budzynski

    Of course, cheese tastings are familiar to those in large cities, but we live on a small farmstead dairy in a rural area. We do between 2 and 4 cheese tastings for our co-op members each year, and they are so much fun and so informative. If you are thoughtful about the cheeses you bring together and the facts you share with the tasters, they are highly attentive and appreciative. And we like to think we have created several hundred new goat cheese fans over the past 3 years. It is a delight for us, and seems to delight our tasting crowd.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Ah, yes, cheese does lend itself well to as tasting, and most people know very little about how it’s made, so I can imagine why your events are so popular. Best wishes of success for your dairy farm!

  • http://cookingwithnettie.blogspot.com Moore Or Less Cooking

    Sounds heavenly! Nettie

  • http://www.chefmorgan.com Marie Leon

    This sounds absolutely delicious. I love chocolate, and now more then ever i want to create my society of chocolate lovers. I bonded with this chocolate Tart that i found on Chef Morgan’s website. Chocolate tart

    thanks marie

  • http://www.eatdrinkch.com Yael

    Sounds like the best society to part of!
    Do they have any clubs in Switzerland?
    best regards,
    Yael

  • http://mostlyaboutchocolate.com Mostly About Chocolate Blog

    I am so green with envy but that sounds like an amazing experience!

    I think we should do something like this in London – it would be amazing!

  • http://www.confectionarydesigns.com Stephanie

    Congratulations! What a great (and tasty) honor!!

  • MaryAnna Mannino

    Pls give the Polaine recipe. It looks great!Claudine, wishing you the best, MaryAnna

  • http://www.espritchocolat.com LauranieChoco

    Yes Yael, there is one great club in Switzerland, les “Passionnés du Chocolat” : http://www.passionnes-chocolat.ch/

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