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Calling all choc-a-holics!
A great New Year treat was had by all at Pralus – The renowned family chocolatier, establshed in 1955, and based in Roanne, Roannais, Rhône-Alpes.
What a privilege it was to be taken on a private visit of their main establishment in Roanne where they produce their incredible delights!
My husband, Brian, and our 7 year old son, Ellis, and I were shown around the world famous Pralus factory ('factory' does not seem to be the correct word here, as this is truly a family business that is run smoothly in a very low-key way as a family business.
Yes, using more than your domestic appliances, of course, but high quality products made in, essentially, a homemade, family culture.)
We were offered this treat of a visit by the girl friend of one of our very good friends in France.
She, herself, is a long time friend of François Pralus, the owner and Managing Director, (and son of the founder, August Pralus) of the Pralus empire.
We literally jumped at this rare opportunity, having savoured the delights of the various Pralus boutiques in our locale.
We knew that the business was very successful in France, and with exports to Fortnum and Mason in London, but we were not aware of just how widespread and far-reaching their reputation had travelled throughout the world!
Just tap 'Pralus Chocolate' into Google to see what I mean!
Chocolate connoisseurs everywhere delight in their single origin chocolates.
As I said before, everything seems very relaxed and low key at Pralus.
We wandered into reception, and Laurence (our hostess) poked her head around a couple of doors before she spotted François, who promtly came to greet us with convivial style and smiles.
He then whisked us into the first of many different rooms where a couple of pastry chefs were making the famous Praluline brioche (at first glance in the shop window, a bizarre-looking item!), with its bright pink sugar-coated almonds and hazelnuts – absolutely gorgeous! A must when calling round at friends for afternoon coffee.)
The aroma was sensational, and the atmosphere hypnotic, as the ovens filled with slowly rising, pink-encrusted mountains.
August Pralus invented this treat, and although many others now try to copy the recipe, nobody makes them like the original, as the queues early on a Sunday morning outside Pralus shops testify. The recipe is still a carefully guarded family secret!
In the next room the renowned Galette de le Roi (round, flat cake) were being rolled out on great marble slabs, using copper tube rolling pins.
Another French tradition, these puff pastry galettes, filled with a frangipan centre and including tiny porcelain figurines hidden inside (usually of king and queen, but many other varieties are also used), are made for Epiphany. They are always sold with a gold cardboard crown around the edge, and whoever finds the figurine of the king is 'King' for half a day.(Not dissimilar to our own tradition of a sixpence in the Christmas pud.)
Then we move smoothly on to the chocolate.
I'm sure you can imagine the heady aroma.
François enthusiastically explained that they import their own cocoa beans (and I do mean their 'own'), as they own large plantations in Madagascar and the Ivory Coast.)
It was fascinating to see the dried raw beans, and how they were stripped of their husks then slowly, over 3 days and nights, were crushed, heated and mixed with sugar and cocoa butter until smooth, silky chocolate was created – simple!!
In its liquid form the chocolate is piped upstairs where it is made into slabs, some large, bought by confectioners, restaurateurs and patisseries all over the world, and some small and tiny slabs which are collected together into Pralus' famous 'Pyramides des Chocolats', containing single origin chocolate from many different countries, and at different percentage strengths.
Some up to 100% pure chocolate!
We were all fascinated by the different processes and stages of creation, and watched in wonder at the way this amazing product was turned into mini works of art, breathtakingly beautiful chocolates, meticulously decorated by hand, and boxed and packaged in the most gorgeous, handmade wooden or metal caskets – Francois also has these made in Madagascar.
Continuing on, we saw the process by which almonds and hazelnuts were first roasted in copper 'mortar mixers' then coated in their crunchy,sugar pink shells. These were either destined to be sold in pretty packets or crushed as one of the main ingredients for the Pralulines.
Again, the smell was truly wonderful.
François was very patient and helpful, answering our many questions, and coping with our terrible French, explaining each process with passion and pride.
We ended our tour in his executive office. Ellis sat in François' grand chair behind his desk happily drawing all over his note pads! Francois was 'cool'.
There was such a convivial atmosphere, and we were simply made very welcome, indeed.
We were served coffee, and I was presented with a carrier bag gift full of treats, including a still warm Praluline straight out of the oven (I could hardly wait to get back home and munch!!)
So ended a wonderful morning of discovery and French friendliness.
Our sincere thanks go out to François Pralus and all his family and colleagues who gave us an opportunity to 'taste' a little of the mystery and success that is pure Pralus!!
If you are intrigued, and want to know more visit the Pralus website, or even better, look out for their products and shops, and buy some! The quality is in no doubt!