Matthieu de Gottal
Belgium is synonymous with chocolate. And indeed, this is the tale of a chocolatier who harks from that very country - albeit a rather unconventional one.
This chap’s tipple of choice is whisky, not the beer his homeland is so renowned for, he lives in Blighty, not Brussels, and he prefers to work with interesting bean-to-bar, single-origin chocolate from all over the world rather than the Belgian stuff that’s so often upheld as the pinnacle of luxury.
There’s no denying that Matthieu de Gottal is a garrulous character, but he doesn’t just talk the talk - he walks the walk. Since setting himself up as a professional chocolatier in November 2014, his extraordinary chocolates have earned him a firm fan base, and accrued no less than a coshel of awards from prestigious industry bodies like the Academy of Chocolate.
Barry Callebaut-trained Matthieu is a restless, quality-obsessed perfectionist, but a good few drams of his beloved whisky each day help him stay as mellow as one of his Atholl Brose ganaches. Whisky chocolates are where he’s made his mark thus far, but any ingredient is ripe for inclusion in one of his infusions - from roses to oranges.
Days in his development lab see Matthieu trialing new creations over and over again, then quite probably once more for good measure; tweaking recipes until they’re not only ‘just right’ but until they’re even better than that. Each from-scratch small batch numbers just 250 chocolates, with his meticulous production process taking a full four days from start to finish.
It isn’t easy to capture the true spirit of a spirit in chocolate; and all-too easy to lose the nuances so essential to a product’s character. But, quite frankly, this Nailsworth chocolatier has nailed it. His devotion to both fine whisky and fine chocolate won’t let Matthieu treat either with less than the greatest respect, and every ounce of that tender loving care is evident in the eating.
Fans of a dram might opine that whisky and chocolate work well together, but are best imbibed side-by-side, not bought together in a fancy bon-bon. Those fans clearly need to have a word with Matthieu, or try a box of his chocs.
That box might contain the award-winning white chocolate Penderyn Sherry Cask and honey ganache with its tropical tones, the powerfully-peaty Laphroaig Quarter Cask ganache made with 50% Madagascar milk chocolate, or an exceptional Atholl Brose-inspired truffle made with Aberlour-soaked oats and honey.
And it’s a pretty safe bet that box will also contain a lot of alcohol. Matthieu has a generous hand when adding slugs of spirit. His chocolates pack a powerful punch, but are never overpowering. It’s all about alchemy and an understanding of one’s raw materials. Accordingly, this chocolatier indulges in regular and meticulous whisky and chocolate tastings, and will freely admit that he has it tough.
But Matthieu is not a man to rest on his laurels - or even in a comfy leather chair with a glass in his hand - for long. He’s currently garnering a reputation as a bit of a spice boy, with International Chocolate Award-winning ‘Salty Fennel’ and Amrut Fusion-infused Kashmiri chilli chocolates already in his remit, and much delicious development on the horizon.
One could waffle on for eternity about the exquisite nature of this Belgian chocolatier’s wares - but the most compelling case is made simply through sampling.