I have some tips for buying Belgian chocolate, not the commercially mass produced stuff we are all familiar with, but the unique, handmade chocolates, some of which are not sold outside of Belgium, not even in the rest of Europe. When people dream of chocolate, it’s the Belgian version that haunts their tastebuds. Chocolate is one of two main reasons I went to Belgium. You can probably guess that the other reason was beer. I decided that since there is a lot of information out there on how and where to travel in Belgium, that I would put a different spin on this small country’s appeal and address my favorite subject of chocolate. After spending a week there, and eating a lot of truffles, I have some tips for buying chocolate in Belgium that are sure to make you happy you stayed away from “that” brand that we can all get in our home country.
#1 Tip For Buying Belgian Chocolate
If you can buy the brand in your home country, don’t buy it in Belgium. Brands like Godiva, Guylian, Neuhaus, and Leonidas are all excellent quality Belgian chocolates, but they are industrialized. They are not handmade, but they are still really good. Industrialized chocolates don’t have the unique properties of a handmade, artisanal chocolate. Some of the handmade chocolates that are my favorites are:
Mary Chocolatier – The first, and still the foremost, chocolatier in Brussels, started in 1919, and still uses the original packaging. See tip #3.
Pierre ledent – Also try the macaroons here and don’t shy away from the truly unique flavors.
The Chocolate Line – I visited the one in Antwerp which is housed in a former residence of Napoleon’s and allows you to see the kitchen. There are some incredibly unique flavors here like apple cider vinegar caramel, passionfruit, or my all-time fave, white chocolate ganache with cilantro, chili pepper and lime jelly. Mind blowing!
#2 Tip For Buying Belgian Chocolate
Take a chocolate tasting tour in Brussels. There are many, many walking and tasting tours in Brussels. I only did one and it was 22 euros and about two hours. It was great, although I was surprised at the number of industrialized chocolate stores we visited. I thought it would be primarily artisanal chocolate shops, and there were several of those too. Tours range from 2-4 hours and from 20 euros and up. I do not know of any that are free, and you should also tip your guide.
#3 Tip For Buying Belgian Chocolate
Look for custom packaging, not commercial, as a mark of unique, handmade chocolates. Remember Mary Chocolatier? The design of the packaging is one of Mary’s hand drawings of a cat from her original packaging. Pierre ledent sweets come in beautiful boxes and are no more expensive than less customized packaging.
#4 Tip For Buying Belgian Chocolate
Shop around and accept the free tastes that most shops offer all potential customers. I went into many shops to look around. All but one offered me free samples, usually of their dark chocolate truffles. The quality of the basic dark truffle can be the best measure of the quality of their other chocolates. See tip #5.
#5 Tip For Buying Belgian Chocolate
Another good tip for buying Belgian chocolates that have less traditional flavors is to try the basic truffle first. Belgian chocolate is primarily dark and has no vegetable or palm oil in it. True Belgian chocolate uses 100% cacao butter and must be ground to a 15. To give you an idea of how fine that is, American chocolate, like Hershey’s for example, is only required to be ground to a 37. The grinding affects the texture and viscosity of the cacao butter and the final chocolate we eat. This is why Belgian dark often tastes creamy even though it is dark and has less sugar than most others.
#6 Tip For Buying Belgian Chocolate
This last tip for buying Belgian chocolate might surprise you. Don’t shy away from buy-by-weight. Handmade truffles and pralines are often sold this way. It’s not like an all-you-can-eat buffet where quality suffers at the cost of quantity. Even Mary Artisan Chocolatier sells by the weight. So does The Chocolate Line. It is heavenly to go in these shops and choose the truffles you want and walk away with a box of sweets totally personalized to your taste.
Chocolate may not be the only reason to visit Belgium, but many people put it at the top of their list of reasons. I mean, there is beer, too. But chocolate is just as much an art, and maybe even more so, than beer. I did a lot of walking to justify the amount of it I ate on this trip, and it was so worth it. In fact, I took a walking tour in Brussels and a chocolate tasting tour as well.