Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The effects of high quality chocolate on the conversion of love to commitment in the human female: A scientific study, or, in praise of Michel Cluizel

I received an email from one of my students in international business transactions a few days ago, asking my opinion of the best of the high quality French chocolate available here in DC.

He had come to me because I had featured transactions in chocolate in several IBT problems, including my real life experience of discovering that the super expensive Valhrona chocolates that I got in Bon Marchais in Paris in March could be had - identical wrapper and all - in Trader Joe's in Bethesda, Maryland for half the price.

I took the time to speak with the Trader Joe's buyer - dedicated law teacher searching for real life meaning and all that - who told me that the price differential was due to (1) volume discounts for Trader Joe's, (2) the ability through the internet to cut out all of the intermediaries and deal directly B2B, and (3) the fact that I had been willing to pay the premium associated with going to the source in Paris. This last can be recharacterized as the willingness to pay a premium for luxury goods, defined in this case as the bragging rights of being able to say, well, I got this in Paris, whereas everyone else got it at Trader Joe's. It's the Veblen leisure class effect phenomenon. Price goes up, demand goes up, and off we go to Paris in search of chocolate.

That's all preliminary, however, to my student's quest. I had informed the class (repeatedly and nearly put it on the final exam) that the best chocolate is not actually Valhrona, but instead the chocolate of the Parisian chocolatier Michel Cluizel. I visited his retail store in Paris, too. Michel Cluizel chocolate can be found (in New York and DC) in Balducci's (which happens to be just one block from American University, where I teach).

(Michel Cluizel, Michel Cluizel - repeat it a couple of times. Roll it around the tongue; experience the full bocquet - hints of vanilla and cinammon, a bitterness of the earth - something fastening on the neural receptors ...)

My student followed up with another email this morning. It read: "Found Michel Cluizel. She said yes."

So there you have it. It was not just love that he was looking for, nor love that he was seeking to convey. My student was looking to demonstrate his reproductive fitness by hunting and gathering the greatest chocolate on earth and bringing it to his intended, so to demonstrate his abiding commitment. Commitment is where the chocolate comes in, from he who bears it and she who consumes it. Being the stuff it is, eating it triggered (chemically, surely) a deep pair bond and reciprocal commitment, each to the other. Their happiness is no doubt assured. Congratulations to both of them. And thanks to Michel Cluizel!

(Update, January 1, 2006. As the anonymous commentator points out, one should not generalize from French chocolate to all chocolate - there is, after all, Belgium chocolate to consider. We had New Year's day brunch with friends, however, one of whom is a Belgium economist with the IMF. He took the view that Belgium chocolate specializes in the chocolate truffle, while French chocolate specializes in the actual chocolate, in bar form. In my experience, that is true, although I have not spent enough time in Belgium chocolate shops to have a firm opinion. It is something I would be happy to rectify, however.)


Anonymous said...

At the beginning this entry was about the best French chocolates. Fine. But at the end you say that Cluizel is the best chocolate in the world. Since even the French accept that Belgium does chocolates better, maybe this inconsistency can be clarified on your part, or do you wish to dispute it (which would be interestin)? Of course, some of the best Belgian chocolatiers have shops in Paris (and even New York, ie, Pierre Marcolini). But many don't. Some, like Mary's in Brussels (a favorite of President Bush's), have but one store in Belgium. The names can all be googled to retrieve their webpages.

Anonymous said...

Great post, thank you! Also, there is another wonderful article about French chocolate/ It has some history and even recommends the best combinations of French chocolate with wine.