Friday 11 February 2011
Eating Perfume: Penhaligon's chocolates
Flower food and scented recipes get my pulse racing in exactly the same way as a new fragrance. I've written about eating perfume before in the context of the ingredient ambergris but Penhaligon's in Edinburgh and their neighbour The Chocolate Tree have gone one better and collaborated on chocolates inspired by Penhaligon's perfumes.
The fragrances they produced chocolates for are: Malabah, Cornubia, Endymion, Orange Blossom, Amaranthine and Gardenia; a mixture of classic and newer formulations.
I was excited and fascinated by this process- and the chocolates themselves sounded delectable. Alex Musgrave, the delightful manager at the Edinburgh branch of the perfumers, agreed to answer some of my questions about how this chocolate collection.
1 How did the idea for a collaboration between Penhaligon's and The Chocolate Tree come about?
The collaboration was almost accidental. With a touch of fate! I have wanted to create scented chocolates for almost as long as I have worked for Penhaligon’s which is six years now. It’s a tricky thing to do. The artisan chocolate market is awash with a huge array of convoluted flavours, some successful some not. I had criteria. I wanted something local and therefore exclusive to my boutique, flavours reflective of our fragrances, not slavish imitations and delicacy and originality. I wanted them to surprise my clients. We succeeded on all these points.
One of the Chocolate Tree team, Josie, their talented baker, came in looking for fragrance. We got talking about flavours, scents and mutual ideas. Then Ali (Alistair Gower), the owner of the Chocolate Tree got in touch and we sat down to talk chocolate and perfume. He was new to fragrance and truth be told I am not a massive chocolate eater and knew very little about the way artisan quality chocolate is made. We looked very carefully at the fragrances with the ingredients we thought might produce the most unique finished product. I wanted a range of tastes, finishes, textures and sensations. I really wanted each chocolate to be savoured on the palate in the way a scent opens and blooms on the skin. Big ask, but you know what….we got very close. Especially with some of them. We did a couple of trials and changed the ganaches, tweaked ingredients, changed the colour of chocolate shell here and there and then kept tasting until we were happy. The final six chocolates were just beautiful and worked better than I could have hoped for.
2) I am a great lover of rose and violet creams- which are obviously made with perfume type flavours- I know they are quite love or hate- what was the reaction of customers to the perfumed chocolates? Was there a particularly successful chocolate?
We knew the reaction from clients would be really interesting. Everyone (the team included) had quite pre-conceived ideas about scent-inspired chocolates. So it seemed did many of our customers. I trained all our staff in the collaboration process and the inspiration and the ingredients. I had involved them in all stages of the process too, asking for feedback from them about the different drafts of the each chocolate. So when we started to sell them and talk about them we were more than we prepared. We all loved different chocolates too and were passionate about the project. We launched them at a special evening for local businesswomen, talking about the collaboration and letting the ladies sample them for the first time. It was interesting to watch reactions as I talked. Some were intrigued some not, some not really liking the idea at all, imaging a straight perfume/chocolate mix. After tasting however was a different matter. Hugely positive, everyone surprised and really intrigued by the witty interpretation of the fragrances, the scented echo if you like. We sampled them in store as we sold too and this really worked, talking each client through the project and letting them sample the same scent too. The feedback was so positive, with repeat sales for the chocolates and so much encouragement from our clientele.
3) I think using floral ingredients in food is becoming more fashionable- and gourmand fragrances continue to be very fashionable- did anyone find that they liked the chocolate of a scent they didn't like on their skin?
This is an interesting question. The Amaranthine chocolate was in many ways the most challenging to create and the fragrance for me that I wanted to be absolutely perfect. The fragrance was launched in November 2009 and exploded across the artisan scent world with its divisive and compulsive blend of tropical banana leaf, spiced oils, high levels of ylang oil and a deeply weird hot milk note in the base of the scent that made it so moreish and sensual. It is perhaps one of the most unusual and shocking scents that Penhaligon’s has launched and was created by master perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour. I wanted the oddness of this scent to come across. The contrast of comfort and carnality, the creaminess and unsettling power of ylang, a renowned aphrodisiac oil. This fragrance divided our clients. Some loved, some hated. The chocolate however worked like a dream, (we used tiny touches of ylang ylang essential oil) seducing all who tried it and for me is the stand out chocolate in the collection. On a personal level, one of the chocolates is based on Malabah, a ginger and rose based oriental we have in our collection. The scent itself is witty, juicy and stylish but smells sharp and bitter on my skin, much as I want to wear it. The chocolate however is smooth and beautifully made, with delicate notes of green coriander running through it and the earl grey tea note which in the scent is fresh, is smoky and warm in the chocolate. Wonderful.
4) I am especially intrigued as to how the non floral ingredient like sandalwood tasted- could you tell us a little bit about that?
The sandalwood note (and the use of myrrh and the Endymion chocolate) works very well with chocolate. They are both warm, woody, earthy notes. This plays well with the bitterness of dark chocolate in particular. Ali the chocolatier and his team use these notes with great finesse, the aromatic creaminess of wood oils breathes into the chocolate and seems to give it an extra dimension without ever overpowering it. Like base notes in fragrance, I noticed as the chocolate finished on the palate, these wonder bitter woody notes resonated last of all, smoothing and rounding the experience off.
5) Might the collaboration be repeated in the future?
I have future projects in the back of my mind already. The valentine’s project is already up and running in Edinburgh and selected London stores. I would like to look at working on chocolates for the new Anthology fragrances launching in late spring. One of them is a sparkling fruity gourmand begging to be made in a chocolate. We are looking at making Blenheim Bouquet, out bestselling citrus into a mini bar for father’s day, I love the idea of playing with black pepper, lemon, pine and bergamot. Maybe a small box of limited edition Orange Blossom chocolates for mother’s day. So there are ideas galore. I want Ali to be considered like a perfumer in some respects, someone who I consult with a brief, who creates something special to sit alongside our beautiful fragrances. We both like a challenge and the process so far has been fun and surprising for both of us.
Thank- you very much to Alex and everyone at Penhaligon's. There is lots more information about the upcoming Valentines chocolates on the Penhaligon's facebook page and you can follow the fragrance house on twitter- they have lots of competitions and interesting events throughout the year.