Wednesday 8 January 2020

Bitter sweet—absinthe-filled chocolate

A friend was holidaying in Switzerland and noticed this curio—I’m not sure if this was just in a regular shop or in the weird, fluorescent hell-cave of the duty-free shop at the airport, where all concept of value and worth are mysteriously sucked out of your brain. Yet she battled through the fog to realise that this was destined to be brought back for me.

On the face of it one should have no fear. The Swiss famously make great chocolate and their country (or rather the wormwood habitat that straddles the country’s border with France) is the home of absinthe, so what could go wrong? The packaging features a bucolic scene with a cow calmly munching some grass and NOT going off its nut on mind-bending substances, and even if you examine the image with a magnifying glass there is no trace of the 1905 bloodbath wherein Swiss labourer Jean Lanfray murdered his family—allegedly after an absinthe bender—which finally led to the banning of absinthe throughout much of Europe. OK, so the glass of absinthe in the foreground is sloshing around maniacally, as if it is sitting on the dashboard of a pickup doing 105 kilometres per hour along a busy Swiss arterial road, as the driver mutters to himself that what is about to happen is HER fault and she MADE him do it. There is even an absinthe spoon on display for verité, though you sense that, while the artist has probably seen one, he/she has no idea what you actually do with it, so it has been left leaning jauntily against the glass. The same glass that is about to lose its contents in a green tsunami as the pickup revs ever closer to its destiny…

Anyway, this is absinthe-filled chocolate, called “Larmes d’Absinthe”, or “Tears of Absinthe”. Which I admit does not sound that positive. In fact it has a hint of “we warned you” about it.

We’re all familiar with liqueur-filled chocolates, and this uses the same technique—I guess the nodules of absinthe are lined with some sort of sugar shell, which you can feel crunching as you bite into it, right before the liquid centre spills over your tongue. Needless to say, it is very good chocolate, and although the absinthe brand is not named it tastes authentic enough in the context. I admit that there is something disconcerting about it: precisely because we are familiar with liqueur-filled chocolates, each time I bite into one of these I am taken aback by the bitter pungency of the absinthe. But overall it does work—the chocolate and the sugar offer more than enough sweetness to balance the bitterness of the absinthe, and the chocolate is proper dark stuff, so overall it does seem like a decadent, grown-up treat.