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Meet Brussels' alternative chocolate-makers

You can’t visit Brussels without treating yourself to some of the finest chocolate in the world. Belgium has elevated the craft to an art form and its capital is choc-a block with stores devoted to the dark delight.

There are shops galore: in the airport, at train stations and in nearly every narrow street surrounding the Grand Place. Many of the country’s connoisseur brands fills the pretty Sablon squares, among them, the inventor of the praline and ballotin chocolate boxes, Neuhaus. Royal warrant holder Wittamer also has a luscious boutique here, as does the pioneer of modern chocolate making, Pierre Marcolini. Venture a little further into the city, though, and you’ll discover some of the growing army of artisan master chocolatiers.

Benoît Nihant

A commercial engineer by profession, Nihant is a successful self-taught chocolatier. His career change was motivated by a passion to make high-quality innovative chocolates and conviction that the country was over-reliant on its chocolate-making reputation. Now forging an empire with stores and workshops around the country, he also supplies and collaborates with some of Belgium’s most famous gastronomic restaurants. While most chocolate makers buy chocolate from a supplier and re-melt it to make products, Nihant masters the whole process, from bean to bar. Since 2011, he has travelled to plantations around the world to source his own quality, rare and expensive cocoa beans. He began by buying beans in Bali and Madagascar, before expanding into Cuba, Ecuador, Madagascar and Venezuela. In 2016, he added beans from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. He sources two different types, Criollo and Trinitario. When the beans arrive at his workshop, Nihant roasts them gently, grinds them methodically and removes them patiently from their pods before carefully crushing and conching them. The chocolate produced is used to create hand-crafted artisan creations. These include small squares dipped in chocolate in the French production style rather than moulded as is frequent in Belgium. Flavours are infused with subtle additions, such as spices, nuts, herbs and seasonal products.
506 Chaussée de Waterloo, Ixelles
1359G Chaussée de Waterloo, Uccle (open beginning August)

Frederic Blondeel

Blondeel epitomises bean to bar manufacture. A self-proclaimed cocoa bean roaster extraordinaire, he combines traditional and modern techniques, to create sublime artisan chocolate. His range of products includes ten different single origin chocolate bars, a wide selection of pralines – from fruit and spice to authentic seashells – as well as couverture bars for cooking, cocoa powders and spreads. Blondeel’s Dansaert quarter shop doubles as a tempting tearoom.
24 & 36 Quai aux Briques (centre), 32 Rue de la Paille (Sablon)

Jean-Philippe Darcis

He may be famed for his macaroons, but Darcis’ chocolates are no less delicious. Among the distinctive flavourings is a milk chocolate praline imbued with Belgian Owl whisky, a speciality of Darcis’ home region of Liège. His patisserie is equally impressive. Darcis, who is expanding his confectionary empire into Asia, is an advocate of sustainable cocoa bean production.
40 Rue au Beurre (Grand Place)

Laurent Gerbaud

The Brussels confectioner’s speciality is fusing fruit and chocolate, in a mouth-watering range of deceptively simple yet delicious combinations. The accent is on top-quality ingredients which extends to his house blend of chocolate. Gerbaud is also on a mission is to “open people’s eyes and palate”, via an appreciation course in which you taste 12 different chocolates. It’s coupled with a lesson in making mendiants – slim chocolate slabs topped with a selection of nuts and dried fruit. Gerbaud runs the workshops from his shop, cafe and atelier, in the Mont des Arts area of the city. When not overseeing production, sales and marketing, he sells his wares at Boitsfort market every Sunday, meets fellow gourmands for chocolate pairings, attends fairs and serves as a chocolate ambassador abroad. And the workshops? “I may have done this 100 times, but it’s still fun,” he says. Workshops for individuals every Saturday, €35pp. Group bookings and teambuilding events via Itinéraires tours. In English or French; translators available for other languages.
2D Rue Ravenstein (Centre)

Other chocolate workshops

From professional classes to fun workshops, chocoholics can discover tricks of the trade from the country’s top chocolatiers.

Zaabär
Taste the products and have a go at making your own confectionery at this artisan factory on Chaussée de Charleroi, near Place Stéphanie. The speciality is spice, with flavours from exotic places. Suitable for children seven and up.

Planète Chocolat
There are workshops at this artisan chocolate maker in Rue du Lombard, near the Grand Place. Plus demonstrations, tours and teambuilding events.

Choco Story
Learn about the history of chocolate, taste samples and watch demonstrations at this museum dedicated to the sweet stuff in central Brussels. Guided tours are available.

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