Swiss chocolatier Blaise Poyet believes he has captured the essence of the Protestant reformer Jean Calvin in special chocolate pralines he created to mark the 500th anniversary of the religious figure who made his mark on European history.
"It's not easy to represent theological ideas by using the taste buds," acknowledges Poyet, a master chocolatier from Maison Poyet in Vevey, 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Geneva, where the French-born reformer lived and worked. "But the key thing for Calvin is the glory of God, his excellence, his perfection. So we chose a chocolate that we chocolatiers find exceptional, rare and flawless."
The chocolates were unveiled in Geneva on 2 November 2008 after a ceremony to launch a year called "calvin09" to mark the 500th anniversary in 2009 of Calvin's birth, along with other products and events intended to capture the life and spirit of Calvin.
The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches approached Maison Poyet to produce the chocolates.
"It was an interesting challenge," says Poyet, whose 15-year-old company has 27 employees and makes six tonnes of chocolates a year. "For me, Calvin was just one of the reformers that I heard about at school, a long time ago."
It took weeks of discussion and research to figure out how to represent through flavours the person and work of Calvin. "Our creations are not just chocolates with a logo," notes Poyet. "We take our research seriously."
As Calvin lived and worked in Geneva, which is now part of Switzerland, the chocolates are based on local ingredients that were used at the time of the reformer and are still to be found today.
The first layer is based on a classic smooth and runny praline mix. "But we have 'reformed' it," says the Vevey chocolatier, by using crunchy caramelised hazelnuts, and using salt from the Swiss Alps to make the praline slightly savoury.
The second layer uses a "chocolate Grand Cru from Bolivia", made from 68 percent cocoa paste, to represent Calvin's theology of the glory and perfection of God.
"It is a real pleasure," Poyet says of the Bolivian chocolate. "Paradise indeed."
Some historians have noted Calvin was not always an easy person, yet "it is undeniable that in his actions, he demonstrated exceptional tenderness," recounts Poyet. "So we have used a caramel made from Swiss cream that that slightly softens the chocolate to represent in a discreet way this love for one's neighbour."
Finally, a taste of lemon verbena, a perennial, represents Calvin's ability to sow, to plant and to make things grow.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]