Bonane, Co. Kerry
These are very rich and handsome flavors, blended by French chocolatier Benoit Lorge. Lots of liquor flavors.
The shop is a delight and demands you to take action - you choose your own handmade box and you concoct your own assortment of bonbons; they assemble it before your eyes. The other ladies in the shop knew exactly what they wanted - obviously regulars, or, addicts. I can see why - the chocolates are superb. Take home a bag, a delicate box, or a carton of Parisian chocolate chard to heat for a fireside treat.
How to get there
Located on Kenmare-Glengarriff N71 road, 5 km south of Kenmare.
From Kenmare, take N71 south 5 km to Bonane. Look for brown and white sign that reads "Fine Handmade Chocolates" by side of road on left side.
From Glengarriff, take N71 north to Bonane. Look for brown and white sign that reads "Fine Handmade Chocolates" by side of road on left side.
See www.buseireann.ie website for all current travel details and restrictions.
Bonane, Co. Kerry
Tel: (0)87 9917172
We pull up just before closing, and I go inside. My travel partner sits across the road, confident in my chocolate-selecting abilities. He watches the many middle-aged women, ravaged by love of chocolate, pulling up in cars, meditating for a few minutes on their plans of attack, then throwing their car doors open and pouncing on the shop. Breathless, they stand behind me in line, calculating the number and variety they will buy. Standing in line, I am no different than them. Each of us understands why we are here.
It is a chocolate cottage by the side of the road -- one half shop, the other half kitchen. The shop is a pure delight - the actual chocolates are minimally packaged, leaving them naked for my viewing pleasure. The boxes are elaborately hand-decorated by Benoit's partner Yolanda, providing a stunning setting for the creations. Each box has its own theme, expressing a mood - there is a wide selection for any occasion.
Okay - the chocolates. These are robust flavors, bold contrasts, very masculine. Benoit is masterful in his chocolate-making abilities. A native of Lorraine in France, he originally trained as a pastry chef and then traveled the world. Living in Corsica, the South of France, and Scotland, he finally settled in Ireland. He began making chocolates as a side project for local charities. When demand increased, he opened his own company in Bonane. He uses only top-quality ingredients from around the world, taking his inspiration from the opulent landscape.
I choose an assortment of flavors - rum caramel, whiskey truffle, and paprika bonbon. The paprika one is unusual - the combination of dry paprika and chocolate creates a texture I don't like. The rum caramel is strong and delectable.
I buy a dark chocolate praline bar, intending to send it as a gift. But later on, during dire times when no good chocolate is to be found, I open it and dive in. The bar is creamy and rich, with a strong chocolate flavor. I prefer it to the ganaches and bonbons, because of its simplicity. But if you are into adventures and wildly decadent flavors, Benoit has some sophisticated ones that will really wake up your senses.
I'm happy to see a boxed chocolate chard in the chocolate shop. The first time I've seen this outside of Paris. Too bad we cannot cook it on the road -- it is a decadent treat for rainy days.
Unfortunately, Benoit is not there to speak to personally. He is out delivering chocolates, meeting all customers himself. We agree via email to try to meet at the Limerick Milk Market for an interview, but our travel plans change, and we are unable to meet up. I enjoy talking to these chocolatiers who have devoted their lives to such a fine craft. It is obvious by the tastes of Benoit's chocolates that he loves what he's doing and is highly knowledgeable of the flavor art form.
If your kids would like to learn, he hosts children's workshops in chocolate making.
Written by Liz O'Malley - Summer of Travel 2007