When Swedish chocolatier Emanuel Andrén offered to visit us with chocolate truffles that cost $29 each, we were intrigued. We thought they might be the most expensive chocolates in the world, but were disappointed to learn they aren't even in the ballpark.
Still, $29 for one chocolate is a price that, by itself, gets attention, which is exactly what luxury marketers want. You can wring your hands about how no chocolate could be worth that kind of money; if that's true, you're not their target audience.
As with $1000 bottles of wine or $28 bottles of water, the quality demands are different for really expensive food products. The packaging is much more important. The ingredients need to be exotic and enticing. But the flavor doesn't have to be excellent, just competently good, because while some gourmets may be among the audience, that's not why they're buying.
I'm not sure how the intended market will respond to Andrén's creations. The truffles are lovely, which is half of the battle: their colorful swirls and matte-like finish remind us of miniature pool balls painted by an abstract artist.
The ingredients are compelling: Monte Enebro cheese, Laphroaig Scotch whisky, cloudberries. Who doesn't want to try a chocolate made with Appleton Estate 10-year-old rum and a Zino Platinum cigar?
The one disappointment, and niggling worry for the luxury market, is that the chocolate for most of these confections is the poor relation, white chocolate.
"I would like to be as close to raspberry or goat cheese as possible," Andrén says. "I use the white chocolate for the shell because it's important to have a really beautiful shell. Dark chocolate is much more rich in its flavor and can hide the other flavors."
That may be true, but we tried six of these confections, and our favorite by a large margin was the only one with dark chocolate in it: the one with Zino Platinum cigar, Appleton Estate rum, Tabasco, salt and dark chocolate in a white chocolate shell. It's part of the Rich and Robust collection ($98 for four), all of which have booze in the center. We sat upright at first taste from the kick of the tobacco, followed by the soothing dark and white chocolate and the sea salt. It's strong and peppery, particularly on the back of the throat. We shared a sliver with a former smoker who looked worried afterward: "I can't have that," he said. We took that as a form of praise.
The Monte Enebro goat cheese and red pepper marmalade truffle also seemed designed to shock: who expects goat cheese in a chocolate? The cheese and red pepper, with some zing from a bit of Tabasco, were a nice combo, but the white chocolate casing seemed superfluous. We're not sure when this would be served, other than as a curiosity.
Andrén spends two days making each batch of 300-600 truffles by hand, and is particularly proud of his gelées. We understand why after tasting a blueberry and lemon truffle he made for the royal family of Sweden in the colors of the national flag. Despite the exterior colors, the gelée is actually blueberry and lime, and it's a great combination, with more essence of blueberry than any but the freshest of wild berries. Again, though, the white chocolate casing, though beautiful, seemed like extra calories that just drag down the overall flavor.
We felt the same about an interesting combination of raspberry marmalade and perilla; just when we're digging the strong raspberries and light herbal accent, here comes that loudmouth white chocolate, yelling, "Hey, fancypants, pass the Miller Lite, wouldya?"
We tried as hard as we could to taste Champagne (Bollinger NV Brut) in the strawberry/Champagne truffle, but we couldn't. "Champagne is a really really hard taste to work with," Andrén says (though we've found we can work even better with a glass of it beside us).
Andrén is a fifth-generation patisserie owner who met the owner of Calvados Boulard, also the fifth-generation, at a festival in Sweden. He soon created a Calvados milk-chocolate truffle that was the last one we tried. We liked it well enough, but for the shot of Calvados, not the shell, and Boulard Gran Solange Calvados is only $50 for a 750ml bottle at BevMo, whereas the only way to try the confection is in the $98 Rich and Robust 4-pack.
There we go talking about value again! Silly us. Andrén's tour of the Bay Area came after the chocolates were paired with Aston Martin at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. He was trying to line up retail stores to carry them, but this area is not hurting for quality chocolates so the effort has not yet borne fruit.
You can order these online directly and they'll be overnighted by DHL in an icepack.
If you do, you might want to do what we did with our leftover segments. We walked through the newsroom saying, "Anybody want a chocolate?" No takers. We tried again, saying, "Anybody want $7.50 worth of a $29 chocolate?" Plenty of takers. In luxury goods, price is its own value.