WEST BERLIN, N.J. — There’s something subtly special about Michel Cluizel’s chocolate, making each bite satisfying to the tongue — and tummy.
Nearly all of the recipes made by hand in the French chocolate company’s West Berlin factory are dairy-free, many are gluten-free and, with the exception of two pastries — eclairs and macarons — are vegan, according to Jacques Dahan, the president of Michel Cluizel USA.
“We started exclusively for religious purposes,” Dahan told the Courier-Post of Cherry Hill (http://on.cpsj.com/2sYd0JB ), explaining how the chefs created non-dairy items to fit kosher dietary restrictions.
The French company — founded by the Cluizel family more than 60 years ago — opened Michel Cluizel USA headquartered in West Berlin in 2004. It’s a retail store that welcomes shoppers to purchase treats made on-site. Visitors also can tour the factory, but that’s by appointment only.
The chocolates and pastries were sold in the Unites States a decade before the Berlin Township facility opened in an industrial park on state Route 73.
But shops near New York City’s Fifth Avenue — near the city’s Diamond District, Dahan emphasized — inspired Cluizel to create kosher raw products used to make chocolate at its Camden County production site.
“We had to adjust the recipe,” Dahan explained. “It was a challenge.”
The South Jersey kitchen became a laboratory. Dahan’s chefs, many from France, experimented with almond and coconut milks, almond flour and other substitutes that resulted in kosher, gluten-free and some vegan products.
The Berlin plant is no longer certified kosher, but the recipes haven’t changed, the company president said.
Pastry- and chocolate-making are rooted in chemistry, with certain “rules,” Dahan said.
Altering the ingredients changes chemical reactions needed to achieve the same confection.
“If you change one of the parts and it’s not exactly the same weight, it’s a completely different recipe,” Dahan said.
There are limits to what Dahan’s chefs can convert.
Eclairs and macarons continue to require flour that’s full of gluten. Almond flour works well — often better than traditional flour — in other recipes, he said.
Dahan is searching for perfect egg substitutes for yolks in pastry cream and whites vital for macarons, a popular French confection.
Cluizel has 16 varieties of macarons, each taking two days to prepare. The recipes with eggs cannot be classified as vegan. (Cluizel’s chocolates — including truffles — are vegan, according to Dahan.)
“Someday we’ll find something to replace that,” he said.
“I’m not against it as long as the product is good … if it doesn’t taste good, we can’t.”
Information from: Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, N.J.), http://www.courierpostonline.com/