A Belgian Connection
My elderly Mum has recently had a week in hospital with pneumonia. You'll probably be wondering what this has to do with chocolates; let me explain.
About ten years ago we took a long weekend coach trip to northern France and Belgium. It was kind of an early Christmas shopping expedition. We really enjoyed some quality time together and I'm really glad we took the opportunity when we could as it wouldn't be possible now. My son was in Belgium on a business trip when she was admitted, and I guess the two things together made me think back to a frosty November morning when Mum & I relished the opportunity to explore wonderful chocolate shops in that town.
Now my son's trips to Belgium are fairly frequent. It's not unusual for him to fly out for a meeting one day & return the next, or even do it all in one day. His sister - a self-confessed chocaholic - and I have teased him rather mercilessly because he has never brought back chocolates. His answer has always been that he's had no time. So I'd forgotten all about this, when lo & behold he returned bearing a classy-looking brown box and said 'I've brought you these, because it looks as though I won't be going again for some time!'As he's not exactly a romantic I was really touched, and it gave me a lift at just the right time.
Neuhaus was not a brand name I recalled from my visit. It sounds more German than Belgian to me. Being curious by nature I did a web search and discovered that the company was founded in Brussels in 1857 by a Swiss immigrant who opened a pharmacy and made his medicines more palatable by coating them in chocolate - definitely my daughter's kind of man! The company is described as a manufacturer of luxury chocolates, biscuits and ice cream and is an Accredited Supplier to the Belgian Crown. I believe the chocolates are still made locally. Neuhaus states that its current strategy is one of international growth, so it could be one to watch out for! You won't be surprised, then, that you can order online, and they do a very attractive red heart-shaped box, perfect for a Valentine's Day Gift - ladies, start dropping those hints! You can find out more here:
What's In the Box?
My gift box is slim, rectangular-shaped and chestnut brown in colour. There is a pattern of grid-like squares on the front, slightly larger than the chocolates inside. These are visible because the fourth row from the top is cut out and has been replaced by an acetate frame. The name etc is displayed in silver lettering in the second square from the top, first column on the left. On the same row, in a silver panel, are the words 'Le carré "classic" with DARK & MILK written beneath. The bottom right hand square indicates that the box contains 40 chocolates.
The reverse of the box contains a lot of information about the ingredients, in several languages including English. I won't go into that in any detail. This box contains Neopolitan chocolates in dark and milk. Dark has 52%dry cocoa based ingredients; milk has 32% - minimum values. There's a long Best Before date of 16/1/2013. Guidance is given for ideal maximum and minimum storage temperatures. Nutritional information is comprehensive, including %Daily Values. The calorie count is 157 per 30g serving and they estimate about 6 servings in the 180g box which is presumably about 6.5 Neapolitans.
When I open the box I find the Neopolitan chocolates laid out in neat rows and columns, five high and four across. Milk and dark chocolates alternate and you don't need great maths skills to deduce that each layer is two deep. Neopolitans are the kind of chocolate often served alongside a cup of coffee at the end of a meal, although in this context I think I've usually been offered mint chocolate rather than dark or milk like these. Unsurprisingly the wrappers of the milk chocolate ones are a lighter brown than the dark ones. Milk chocolates have the description 'smooth & creamy' on the wrapper front; dark ones say 'rich & intense'. On the reverse is a crest, which I assume is to do with being suppliers to the Belgian Crown, with the usual allergy information beneath - milk, soya, may contain traces of nuts, egg, gluten & peanuts. On removing the paper wrapper I find that the chocolates are covered in a silver paper wrapper. The thin, square Neopolitans have a lightly ridged vertical patterning on them, but in the centre is a circle with a large letter N. There is a faint aroma of chocolate when I bite. The chocolate breaks with a slight snap. I'm not a huge fan of milk chocolate, but, although these are sweet, I find the flavour much more palatable than the likes of Galaxy or Cadbury's Dairy Milk. The dark chocolate breaks with much more of a snap; it is audible! I really like this one. The sweetness isn't overwhelming and the cocoa taste isn't bitter as it can be with some dark chocolates. If I bought this one in a bar I would be tempted to eat too much, but eating one alone is quite satisfying. I'm slightly surprised in a positive way to discover that the chocolate taste is still with me at least 5 minutes after I ate one.
A Matter of Personal Opinion
I feel that these chocolates are very suitable for their main purpose of accompanying a good cup of coffee. As the only coffee drinker in the house I must make myself some real coffee soon and try that out. I think that having a box with a selection of dark and milk is helpful, as people's tastes vary. I know my daughter would prefer the milk, for instance.
These would make a great gift should you want to make someone feel special. I took one of each to my mother when she was in hospital, as her appetite was poor and I thought the option of one or other of these small squares might appeal to her at some point. She never said whether she tried them & I haven't asked in case she gave them to someone else & would be embarrassed!
I would like to give these chocolates 5 stars because they are a quality product from the packaging right through to the individual chocolates. They have class! I feel I must remove one star because, at the moment, you have to do a little work to find them. I didn't ask my son what he paid, obviously, but when I did eventually find a box that looked the same on the Neuhaus website the price was £15 which makes 180g chocolate rather expensive. But if you're looking for a special chocolate gift and don't mind paying I'd recommend them, or I'd suggest seeing what else Neuhaus do - Neopolitans are also available in assorted flavours, pralines etc. I feel this box was an excellent introduction to their range and I'd like to think we will see them more readily available here in the future. What a shame my son thinks he won't be visiting Belgium so often now! Look out for them if you visit the country.
Thank you for reading my review, which may be posted on other sites in the future.
© Verbena, January 2013
Neuhaus are my favourite Belgian chocolates, they're on a par with Godiva but Godiva tend to be that little more expensive. If you venture to Belgium, you must make a visit to one of the Neuhaus shops, this shouldn't be difficult there are several in most Belgian towns. It's almost like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, there is chocolate everywhere! The nicest thing is that the chocolates are very fresh, often made the same day. Neuhaus make a range of different chocolates, they have their Ballotin box, which is a combination box containing chocolates with different fillings, some with alcohol, coffee, marzipan etc. The mixed box is a good purchase the first time you enter a Neuhaus shop as it makes your decision easier. On your next visit I recommend asking to specify your selection, you can still have a Ballotin box but you can choose your favourites, this is also a good idea if you have particular dislikes or are buying for children you can request a selection without alcohol for example. Neuhaus also have a fresh cream selection, these are truly wonderful and a real treat, don't be too greedy or you'll make youself sick (I feel I can say "I told you so", as no matter what I say when you try these chocolates you really can't stop yourself until it's too late. Other choices are bars of chocolate which I usually treat myself to if I'm actually buy chocolates as a present for someone else. It saves me looking like Forest Gump when I hand over a half eaten box of chocolate as I just can't resist! They have a wide range of chocolate bars, they have straight forward chocolate, white, milk, dark and orange flavoured dark. Then they have filled bars, these are filled bars made in the flavours of the most popular Ballotin boxes, I highly recommend the dollar shaped ones. My personal favourites are the Autumn Fruits caramel flavoured pralines, these are just divine. T
hey are a twist on the typical Belgian seashell pralines. Finally, they usually have seaonal items, they have some of the most magnificent Easter eggs all wrapped so beautiful you hardly want to open them. (yeah right like you give the wrapping a second thought when you can see that lovely chocolate within!) Ok I feel I must mention the only bad point about these chocolates which is the price. They are rather expensive to say the least especially compared to a price of Milk Tray but if you actually compare the chocolates inside the box, I doubt you'd give the Milk Tray another look.
Neuhaus Master Chocolate Makers appreciated since 1857 by all connoisseurs, created the first filled chocolate "praline" as well as the "ballotin" box. Both symbolize the famous Belgian Chocolate tradition