Michel Cluizel is a French chocolate making business that was started in 1948. I’ve been enjoying Michel Cluizel chocolate for several years so I am extra excited to bring you this interview with Jacques Dahan the President of Michel Cluizel USA.
A special thank you to Estelle Tracy, 37 Chocolates, for the introduction that made this interview possible.
Jacques Dahan President of Michel Cluizel USA
Victoria Cooksey: Looking back to when Marc Cluizel first started making chocolate, all the way through to now at the third generation of Cluizels, how has Michel Cluizel Chocolate changed the most, and how has it stayed the same?
Jacques Dahan: In fact, Michel Cluizel started the business in 1948 with his parents. Marc, now in charge of the company joined over 25 years ago, first being in charge of the production and scheduling. While we stay true to our core values, the Manufacture Michel Cluizel wanted also to get the equipment to perfect the process as well as the quality of the finish products. However, most of the products are still hand made and and hand checked and packed.
V.C.: Did Marc or Michel Cluizel make any predictions of how the chocolate industry would be now during the current generation? If so, what were those predictions?
J.D.: Having discussed with both of them this question, I think they understood the need for something unique , high end and natural. However, I don’t think they anticipated the “rush” for many to become “bean to bar” which we call Cacaofevier.
V.C.: Can you describe the transition into Manufacture Cluizel and what that means?
J.D.: Few years ago, the Cluizel family decided to transition to this new identity to convey to our customers all over the world that we are processing from scratch and with “human” intervention, not simply machine -hence the word Manufacture which includes the word Mano (hand).
V.C.: How does Michel Cluizel chocolate consider it’s style to be described i.e. craft chocolate, gourmet chocolate, luxury chocolate? How would you define what craft chocolate is? Is Michel Cluizel chocolate bean-to-bar, and if so, when did it become bean-to-bar?
J.D.: We do not consider ourselves as luxury chocolate. The style is very traditional French with a special attention to the taste of each products. To this effect, we utilize our three crafts -Metiers- Cacao fevier (bean to bar)- Confectioner -we make our own pralinés-almond paste-nougatine- liqueur0-gianduja, etc. and finally chocolatier (chocolate bonbons-panned products-novelty items, etc…).
Jacques Dahan of Michel Cluizel USA
V.C.: What words of wisdom can Michel Cluizel impart on how to keep high standards of chocolate-making while continuing to expand in size as a chocolate manufacture?
J.D.: To answer this question, I will tell you a quick story. We prepare our own morello cherries in liquor and one year, we over sold and needed more. After checking the cherries that had been macerated in wooden barrels for over a year and despite he fact that they looked “ready’ to several people, they decided not to put them on the market, losing a profitable sale, because they both felt that the taste would not be the same. To me it shows that the goal of the family is to stay true to the quality and taste they believed in.
V.C.: How does Michel Cluizel choose which location to import cocoa beans from?
J.D.: With one question in mind. Will this chocolate be different and bring tasting notes we currently don’t have?
V.C.: What type of experience should people expect when visiting your museum?
J.D.: In fact, our Chocolatrium , in West Berlin, NJ is not really a museum. It’s more a 60 to 90 minutes chocolate experience. It is a private guided tour with learning , tasting and interaction. We ask questions and we answer questions. We also challenge our guest (especially young ones which products they never tried before ).
V.C.: When comparing how people view chocolate in France and the USA, what are the similarities, what are the differences?
J.D.: 23 years , when I moved from France just the word “extra bitter” which was only a 64% cacaos scared consumers. Today some consumers don’t even want to try below 70%. What they sometimes don’t understand is that cocoa content is not everything. In terms of differences, I think that Americans are more likely to try new original flavors while French are more conservative with pralinés and ganaches.
V.C.: If a person wanted to pursue a career in chocolate similar to you have what guidance would you offer them?
L.D.: Like for any career, my advise is always be passionate and love what you are doing. If you wake up feeling it will be just another day. change career!
V.C.: Do you have any favorite chocolate pairings recommendations (cheese, wine, etc.)?
L.D.: I am blessed to be part in this industry for over thirty years and have tried chocolate with almost everything. For me, chocolate is self sufficient . No need to pair it with anything.
V.C.: Just for fun pick any bar Michel Cluizel bar that you are particularly fond of and equate it to a song, movie, art, experience, etc.
J.D.: My choice will go to Mokaya and a piece of bread. Like in the” Madeleine” from Marcel Proust- a la recherche du temps perdu- it reminds me of the snack I had coming back from school… long time ago.
Thank you so much Jacques Dahan for this interview!