While spending some time in England earlier this year, I had the chance to quench my thirst for great chocolate & spirits with the wonderful creations from Matthieu de Gottal, the Willy Wonka of the Cotswolds!
Naturally, when I thought about this new “7 questions for…” series, Matthieu came to mind to inaugurate those new spirited interviews, aiming at introducing you to different whisky-related talents accross the globe (not only distillery operators and brand ambassadors). This world is indeed full of passionate people working their malted magic, whether they’re organising world-class events, crafting unique furniture from barrels or cooking whisky-filled truffles!
For this first episode, Matthieu kindly agreed to answer my 7 questions :
Hi Matthieu, first of all, could you please tell us a bit about yourself, where do you come from and how did you end up practicing your chocolatey magic in the English Cotswolds ?
I was born in Belgium; both my grandmothers were of Scottish decent and both grandfathers of Belgium decent… can you see the pattern that developed into whisky infused chocolate Truffles! History has it that I baked my first chocolate cake at four years old following my granny’s recipe dating back to the Second World War.
I went to school in Belgium and England and studied Hotel Management in Switzerland. After I had to satisfy my curiosity and worked in several cities: Boca Raton (Florida), Brussels, Paris, London.
Tara, my wife, and I lived in Belsize Park in North West London until we moved to Christchurch in New Zealand (Tara is a Consultant Psychiatrist and was offered a job there) In Christchurch we had the unusually disturbing experience of being court in the 2011 earthquake that destroyed 70,000 homes including ours. We de-emigrated back to England with the addition of our son, Henry and a Golden Retriever, Olive, and far less furniture… Belsize Park was no longer an option so we decided to settle in the beautiful Cotswolds. After a couple of failed attempts to buy a restaurant I lost patience and it was Tara who suggested that I turned my passion into a business. The rest is chocolate history!
The reality is that I love food and drinks, I am an eccentric epicurean according to Laura Rowe from Crumbs Magazine. I rather like this description!
As this is a whisky blog, I should ask you, what’s your personal relationship with spirits ? Any particular anecdote ? A favourite ?
Ha ! I love it – My granny use to have 4 bottles at any one time: Kardhu, Knockendo, Jura and others, every night she would have a dram of each, as you can see whisky and women is not new at all. (she would be a Hundred and Ten year old today). From a very young age I understood that this liquid must have been very special. I bought my first Single malt at eighteen, an Aberlour 10, which was then followed by a Lagavulin 16. Thirty years later my passion for whisky has only increased and I don’t think it will ever stop!
Of all the Eau de Vie (and I’ve sampled my fair share over the years) I find whisky to have the most amazing layers of aromas and flavours, each expression is very complex, it possesses true character. You can have 5 identical casks lying next to each other and each will be completely different with its very own flavours and personality, one could barely be drinkable and its immediate neighbour Single Cask and Cask Strength material. A simple blend can provide huge amount of pleasure without having to take up a small mortgage.
Whilst in New Zealand I dabbled in the whisky profession at Whisky Galore where I had the great privilege to accompany Alex Bruce form Adelphi on a whisky tour and had a session followed by a very well watered down dinner with Charles MacLean – price less.
Scotland will always have a special place in my hart but I must admit that I have a lot of admiration for many of the other countries producing great whisky.
My favourite : The one I haven’t tasted yet !
There are several distilleries that I cherish such as Glenfarclas, Bunnahabhain, Talisker, Old Pultney and some independent bottlers like Adelphi and Provenance. With Single Casks I like the fact that once it’s gone, it’s gone and all you have left is the memory.
I don’t think I will ever “A” favourite, the same applies to chocolate.
What do you think of pairing chocolate with spirits ?
There is something quite magical going on here. When I do whisky and chocolate tasting / class I always like to introduce different ways to cleanse the pallet: A fresh larger, followed by a good dry sherry and the final test is a 80% Bean to Bar Single Origin Dark Chocolate. You should see the expression on the congregation’s faces: pure surprise followed by delight, as if they had just stumbled upon the holy grail and drunk the finest whisky out of it!
Pairing whisky and chocolate is like a drug for me: I can’t stop doing it. After a very long day in the lab making whisky chocolate ganache I then go home and have a dram paired with a bar of chocolate! I can’t get enough.
Bean to Bar Single Origin Chocolate is very much like whisky, each bar might have the same variety of bean and yet depending on it’s origin the flavours will be totally different. Chocolate like whisky improves with age.
So this is where the problem lies Anne Sophie: I have to try a lot of whisky and chocolate to fill up my memory bank and suddenly come up with a match that I hope will satisfy my very discerning public…
More than pairing, you’re actually producing some very special spirited chocolates, how do you find the perfect couples and decide which spirit to use ?
I am lucky in the sense that I have a very good memory for flavours and that I am able to develop a new recipe in my head. My “Salty Fennel” truffle which includes Mackmyra First Edition and Himalayan salt won a Silver gong at the International Chocolate Awards this year, yet it was conceived in my head driving from home down to the lab: a five minute journey.
Generally I discover a chocolate and automatically match it to a whisky in my head like my simple ganache “indochine 105” which is simple in the sense that all I use is Glenfarclas 105 (iconic) and Marou chocolate from Vietnam.
Sometimes the right match is suggested to me. One night my good friend Giles from Egghead Brewery popped in for a whisky and chocolate matching exercise (all very serious you understand!) When we reached the Laphroiag question Giles suggested that I swap the 70% dark chocolate for a good high cacao milk chocolate – it was an epiphany moment which resulted in my “Sweet Peat” truffles made with Laphroaig Quarter Cask and a Malagasy 50% milk chocolate from the Chocolaterie Robert – a little beauty.
What is harder for me is when I am asked to create a truffle for a specific spirit, I seem to linger into the depths of my knowledge for quite a while and then often struggle to put it into practice so it might take me a couple of months to get a great tasting truffle which will honour both the chocolate and the spirit.
What is your favourite chocolate-spirit combination ?
Always a great Bean to Bar Single Origin Chocolate with a fab whisky. No other spirit reaches the flavour explosion quite like those two beasts. I know it’s the biggest cliché but it is multi-orgasmic!
What’s next for your business ? Are you already thinking about new experimentations ?
I never stop! Right now I am working on a truffle collection that will include several spices: cardamom, saffron and many more. These will be matched with whisky to unleash the fire. Chocolate – Spice – Whisky combination is so powerful, each ingredients envelopes and supports the others. I will be entering some of them at the 2015 Great British Spiced Chocolate Challenge.
I am also playing with raw chocolate from my friend Pablo of Forever Cacao, it’s a new area of interest for me, I am very curious about all the good stuff that raw cacao has for us, so my vision is be good to yourself whilst having pure pleasure.
A crazy dream or project you’d like to achieve as a chocolatier ?
My dream is that I will be able to play a little part to help the cocoa farmers and producers around the world so that they are recognised for the amazing job they perform and more importantly get well paid for it so that we protect this amazing food for the generations to come.
Totally crazy dream is that I have my own cocoa plantations in Vietnam, Madagascar and South America coupled with the most amazing whisky library combined with an Art Deco Chocolate Laboratoire!
Most importantly is to put a smile on people’s faces whilst and after they eat my truffles.