Friday, July 19, 2013
Ah, Mon Cheri
Do you remember when you discovered the joy of cooking or the pleasures of a particular food?
I know my first real interest in cooking came in the summer between fourth and fifth grades. My mom made it pretty clear; if I wanted to eat certain things I needed to cook them. She didn’t say this in a mean or sarcastic way at all. She was just inviting me to be self-sufficient. I’m glad she did because I clearly love to cook now.But my first memory of eating a specific processed, manufactured food was entirely different. My family moved to Luxembourg just before I started seventh grade. It was a dramatic change, needless to say, from living in northeast Georgia. Among the lifestyle shifts was taking the city bus to school. I walked down the street through a grocery store parking lot and got bus number ten each morning, often in the dark and went off to an international school with fewer kids in the junior high and high school than in my entire sixth grade back in Georgia. In the afternoon, the trip home frequently meant hanging out with classmates downtown before making my way to the bus. Even once back in the neighborhood a stroll through the grocery store, the Cactus, was often necessary for a little snack before heading home and doing homework. Another American family lived in the area and their kids, a few years older than me, often rode the same bus. One afternoon early in seventh grade we all wandered through the grocery store together. I have no idea what I was buying, but in the checkout lane one of the other Americans picked up some candy (do checkout lanes the world over all have candy?) and suggested I try one. I’ll try anything so I grabbed one. In fact, it was four individually wrapped candies in clear cellophane. Once into the parking lot the other kid gave me the necessary instructions.
“Ok, you can’t just bite into these. They’re filled with liquid so you have to put the whole thing in your mouth or be careful.”I unwrapped one bright pink wrapper and held a small dark chocolate block in my hand. I popped it into my mouth and bit in. Wow! A seriously alcoholic juice filled my mouth as I bit through the chocolate and into a soft cherry. I choked like, well, like a kid trying any strong liquor would.
Ok, now I knew what to expect. Time for another one. I unwrapped it and looked at it carefully. It obviously had a very thin chocolate shell, one easily crushed if not careful. I popped this second one into my mouth but bit into it much more slowly. The liquor leaked out slowly. It tasted delicious, but strong. The chocolate almost seemed to evaporate. The cherry was soft and soaked in booze. I let the flavors swirl and knew then that I had eaten something spectacular and completely unknown in the States. I had a new love, Mon Cheri. For the next several months I bought these beautiful little chocolates as often as I could. After a while I shared these at home. I am pretty sure my mother was horrified that her 12 year old son was coming home popping these things like over grown M&Ms, but I guess European libertarianism had gotten under her skin. She never forbade me from eating them.
Mon Cheri, that’s what this candy was called, is actually filled with kirsch liquor and a Portuguese cherry and is manufactured by the Italian chocolate giant, Ferrero. You probably know them as the makers of Nutella. Manufactured since 1956, the Mon Cheri is the flagship product of Ferrero, even if they sell more of their other products. Exceptionally difficult to get in the States, I never stop looking. I found them once at the Christkindlmarket in Daley Square one Christmas in Chicago. I bought a significant stash. One bite and I was instantly transported to the Cactus parking lot. On trips to Europe since I have found them, most often in duty free shops. An Italian friend tells me they are almost impossible to find in the summer time (I’m a teacher and most often travel in the summer) because they melt and cause quite a mess. She even suggested they weren’t even made in the summer. What is it with me and chocolates only available in the winter?Alas, Mon Cheri, we were meant to love years ago and allowed only a few fleeting, clandestine rendez-vous since. A bientot.