Chocolate has varying degrees of quality, and Belgian chocolate is tops! There's your everyday chocolate found in the common candy bar, your more specialized "exotic" kinds such as Ghirardelli and Godiva, and then, there's Belgium chocolate.
This delectable chocolate is considered to be the gourmet standard; the pinnacle of high-quality by which all others are measured. Even the Swiss, well-known for their chocolate accomplishments, imported their basic recipe from French and Belgian chocolatiers.
It's the quality of ingredients and an almost obsessive adherence to Old World manufacturing techniques that make this chocolate so unique. Most Belgian confections are still made by hand in small shops despite current automation and mass production capabilities. In fact, it's the nostalgic nature of these small chocolate outlets that makes them popular draws for tourists in Belgium today.
In 1912, Jean Neuhaus used a special version of chocolate called "couverture" that greatly increased this chocolate's popularity (even though it had been around since the 18th century). Neuhaus used this couverture as a cold shell for what he called "pralines".These Belgian pralines could then be filled with flavored nougats or creams.
The complex flavors that Neuhaus created with these pralines were not easily duplicated by other chocolatiers of the time. But, many of the chocolate praline companies that were eventually able to copy Neuhaus's creation are still operating today: Godiva, Nirvana, Leonidas, and, of course, Neuhaus Chocolates are famous for their gourmet pralines.
The way their couverture is stored before use gives Belgian chocolatiers a big advantage over their confectionery rivals. While most companies receive their chocolate in solid form, Belgian companies often receive their couverture in heated tanker trucks soon after the tempering process. By not allowing the chocolate to cool, much more of its aroma is retained.