Paris trip for Michel Cluizel competition winners

As a part of Wellocks’ annual advent competition, we ran a month-long competition asking chefs to produce the best dish using two Michel Cluizel products: Vanuari Milk Callets 39% and Vanuari Noir Callets 63%.

The winners, chosen by Cluizel, were Christina Payne from The Grand at Lytham and Jack Webster from the Angel at Hetton and their prize was a two-day trip to Paris including a visit to the Michel Cluizel factory in Damville, Normandy.

The Cluizel family has been making chocolates in Damville for three generations and is committed to quality. The company has developed its own direct and sustainable relationship with cocoa planters.

Christina and Jack took their trip in March. The group began their Paris visit with a trip around all the Cluizel shops so they could get a feel for the high end chocolate sold in the stores and see what an important part the stores play in their communities.

During their journey around the city, they also visited various bakeries with products incorporating Cluizel to inspire the chefs about some different ways that the chocolate can be used.

The following day the group arrived at Cluizel’s Danville factory where they were greeted by owner Marc Cluizel before being given a tour of the factory so they could see all the processes involved in making this special chocolate.

They discovered that the general ethos behind everything that happens at the factory is that lower temperatures and longer times make a better product.

The factory uses 300,000 tonnes of cocoa beans every year, steaming them at a low temperature, then crushing them to extract the coca nib. The nibs are separated into different vats for the different type of chocolates made at the factory, including Wellocks’ Special Branch Plantation Chocolates which only include one type of bean. Machinery is cleaned with cocoa butter rather than water because water and chocolate don’t mix well.

The group followed the entire journey of the Hazlenut Praline Bonbons, watching every stage from nut to finished chocolate.

It all begins with the roasting and caramelising of the hazelnuts which is all done by sight – there are no timers involved, the skilled workers know when they are ready from experience. Once they’re done, they’re placed on cool metals trays on the floor ready for the grinding process.

Back in 1960, Cluizel bought three identical stone grinders and now, almost 60 years later, the team has still only ever used one of them. This means they know that should that grinder break, they have two more which should last them for the next 100 years and beyond.

Once the nuts have been ground, they become a coarse mixture which is used in some of the chocolate bars – however for the praline bonbon they go through another grinder which leaves the mixture so fine and sticky it’s like a liquid.

To create the bonbon shape, the mixture goes on a conveyor belt through a machine with a member of the team picking out any that aren’t the exact bonbon shape and putting them back through the process. The conveyor runs at 13°C to keep the chocolates in the right shape.

Next they are sprayed with two thin layers of chocolate for the perfect coverage and the last stage involves four people creating the pattern on the top of the bonbon by hand before they are hand packed into boxes. The chocolate is stored at 4°C in fridges for the final crystallisation period before being sent off to customers around the world.

The group was left with a sense of how much everyone who works at the factory cares about the process and how personally they take producing the best chocolate around – another perfect ingredient.

The factory visit ended with the chefs being invited upstairs to taste the chocolates and given samples to take home and cook with. Both chefs were particularly taken with a chocolate made from beans which were grown on a plantation by the sea which gives it a naturally salty taste.

Prize winner Christina said: “The journey through the Michel Cluizel factory was both inspiring and surprising. From the raw bean to end product, every step of the process is done to the highest standard possible. The thing that makes Michel Cluizel so special is the heart and value behind their products. Choosing traditional methods and hand finishing over machinery, each and every product is made with love – even their amazing nut pralines are made by hand in huge copper drums the traditional way. They even produce all their own alcohol for use in their chocolates. It really is all about perfect quality at Michel Cluizel and as a chef it’s exciting to work with such a special brand.”