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by Bob Brooke

Guylian Chocolates, Brussels, BelgiumIf there's a Heaven-on-Earth for chocoholics, Belgium is it. Here, chocolate has become more than a mere confection--it's an obsession. For Belgians, eating chocolate is as much a part of life as drinking beer.

While most chocolate lovers conjure up delicious morsels of Godiva when they think of Belgium, it's only one of several top chocolatiers, including Corne and Neuhaus, the oldest. The story goes that in 1859, Neuhaus' founder, a pharmacist and chocolate lover thought Swiss chocolate bars, then the only kind available, boring. So he decided to fill them with creams and nut fillings and thus created pralines, the glory of Belgium, those tempting little custom-made calorie bombs filled with all sorts of luscious ingredients from buttercreams to liqueurs.

Belgian chocolate is pure bliss. The secret of Belgian chocolate is how long the cocoa beans are cooked. While commercial chocolate makers rush the cooking process, making up for it by adding sugar, fine chocolatiers take their time to allow the bean to release its full flavor. In Belgium, chocolate is a compulsory end to any meal, whether it be a chocolate coated creme brulee or a single truffle taken with cafe liegeois--strong hot coffee with a ball of coffee ice cream and cream on top. Even regular coffee is served with a square of chocolate.

Flemish chocolateries glitter like jewelry stores. Many people rate their wares more highly than mere precious stones. It's no exaggeration to say that the finest chocolates are devilish, addictive and ought to be sold with a government health warning. Handmade pralines are sold loose, in bags or in boxed selections.  However, Belgians prefer to point to the ones they fancy tasting or ask the shop attendant to create a mixture, rather than buy a prepared box. Unfortunately, pralines, made with real cream, keep only a week, but they're usually gone long before shelf-life becomes relevant.

Throughout Belgium, over 300 chocolate shops can satisfy even the most discriminating chocoholics. To go back to where it all began, visit Neuhaus' original shop in the Arcades just off the Grand Place in Brussels.

A More Contemporary Interpretation
Chocolaterie Guylian
offers a more contemporary interpretation. Founded in 1960 by Guy and Liliane Foubert (the company’s name is a combination of their first names), Guylian specializes in unique seashell chocolates, each with a distinctive hazelnut praline filling.

Already known for his praline making ability as a student at the Antwerp School of Confectionery and Patisserie in the late 1950s, Guy Foubert, the son of a Belgian baker, had begun making truffles while in school. After marrying Liliane, he and she began making pralines and truffles and selling them at local markets. Needless to say, they’re little business took off. But Foubert wasn’t satisfied. In his search for a summer chocolate product, he came upon chocolate seashells sold in Belgian coastal towns. He adapted modern chocolate-making techniques to this unique confectionery and created his trademark candies. Today, Guylian is the leading boxed chocolate manufacturer in Belgium and the leading importer of boxed chocolates to the U.S. 

Move over, Godiva.

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