By Emily Monaco | Reporting from Paris
The Salon du Chocolat in Paris is like a chocoholic’s Disneyland… complete with the overwhelming sensation that there is just too much to take in. Truffles abound; slabs of chocolate perfume the air with the nearly cloying scent of cocoa and sugar… so when something different draws my attention, I’m quick to pounce.
L’Esperantine de Marseille is unique in many ways, the first of which is its bright green color that distinguishes it from the varying shades of brown in the windows at the stalls all around the huge hall. I soon learn, thanks to the helpful representatives of this small company from southern France, that the differences are even more than what meets the eye.
“Voulez vous goûter ? A taste?” A woman extends a platter of green candies shaped like olive leaves cut in two to reveal a soft, white interior. As I taste, she names the flavors that take a moment to come to mind, the combination so unusual in a chocolate.
“Amandes, écorces d’orange et menthe,” she offers. I allow the chocolate exterior to melt on my tongue as the flavors she has listed slowly make themselves apparent: almonds, sweet and soft like marzipan with just enough texture to know that the nuts themselves are the main binder of the filling. Next, orange peel, just bitter enough to play off the sweetness of the chocolate and the sweetened almond paste. Mint is last, just a hint, playing coyly off the green of the chocolate’s shell. I’m immediately craving another, but the platter has already moved to someone else.
“Bien sûr,” she continues, “ l’huile d’olive.” Olive oil is the last flavor, just vague enough to miss it until you know, and then there’s no denying the ripe perfume, the green fruitiness standing up against the more traditional candy flavors. The woman draws my attention to the posters that had faded into the background of the bustle around the stall; it is, after all, for this ingredient that the Espérantine is most praised.
A piece of paper, posted out of the way of the displays of chocolate olive leaves and smaller chocolate olives, informs me that the sweet won the Cordon Bleu award for best candy at the INTERSUC 2000 conference in Paris. It’s not difficult to see why. Made without preservatives and from only the best ingredients, including almond paste, 70% dark chocolate, mint, almond, orange rind confit and, of course, olive oil, the espérantine is a candy the likes of which you’re not likely to find in your average supermarket or candy shop. Olive oil introduces both flavor and texture while replacing typical fats such as milkfat, which are often used in chocolate manufacturing, especially filled chocolates such as the Espérantine.
Perhaps even more importantly, the olive oil continues the theme of southern ingredients that the candy’s creator, Francesco Martorana—hold so dear: it is, after all, olive oil that “brings a note of nobility that continuously enchants the palate.” The elements of the now-famous Mediterranean diet come together in the concoction of the Espérantine, which Martorana created with the idea of uniting nutrition, health and taste. Espérantine therefore contains only high quality organic extra-virgin olive oil that is, like the most precious of France’s
wines and cheeses, protected under severe regulations and an AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlé) origin designation.
The makers of the Espérantine are just as careful in selling their product, making sure that they always deal directly with the customers. It can therefore be difficult to get your hands on samples of this delicacy, especially from abroad, but you can order the Espérantine in several different packages via the company’s website. One such package, the Duo AOC, is the perfect gift for olive oil lovers, as it comes not only with a package of the famous candies, but also a bottle of gold-medal winning Chateau Vivant olive oil from nearby Aix-en-Provence.
At the Salon du Chocolat, small gift boxes of both the filled chocolates and the smaller olives were stacked behind the counter for sale. I stared longingly at one of the packages, considering buying one to take home to eat luxuriously one by one, allowing the chocolates to melt and reveal their layers of flavors again and again. Luckily, the lady behind the counter caught my glance.
“Voulez-vous goûter ?” she asked with a sly smile, as though she hadn’t noticed me staring at the display cases from the moment she offered my first sample just seconds before. I helped myself to another piece and closed my eyes as I allowed each flavor sensation to wash over me once again: almond, orange rind, mint, chocolate, olive oil. Perfection.