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The Passion for Chocolate

When it Comes to Chocolate is France King?
While admittedly not invented by the French, chocolate has -- as with so much else food-related -- long been a national passion, obsession even.

Death by chocolate, Debauve Gallais style
Chocolates from Debauve Gallais

Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat
Indeed a club dedicated to Chocolate Munching -- Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat -- was set up in 1981. Nicolas de Rabaudy and Claude Jolly-Lebey, the two Parisian chocolate connoisseurs who founded it, claim its 150 enthusiasts have tasted more than 1,000 products and chocolates over the past 27 years at 130 chocolate summits, making theirs the most experienced cocoa or chocolate tasting association in the world.

According to their website the club was set up with one thing in common... all were "crazy about chocolate". Today the Club's true connoisseurs meet five times a year to enjoy chocolate in its varied forms (slabs, bars, appetizers, truffles, sweets, etc.) while not forgetting chocolate pastries, cakes and cookies, mousses and creams, sorbets and ice creams and any other cocoa and chocolate-based product they can find.

From Early Bayonne Beginnings...
Today's passion for the comforting luxury of chocolate, sipped hot at Jean-Paul Hévin Chocolatier's new boutique and cocoa bar (Rue Saint-Honoré Paris) or nibbled as bonbons from one of the elegant expensive chocolate boutiques (Un Dimanche à Paris, chocolate concept store in Saint Germain des Pres for example), would not have been possible without Portuguese Jews.

Jean-Paul Hévin Chocolatier's chic new boutique and cocoa bar,
Jean-Paul Hévin Chocolatier's chic new boutique and cocoa bar,
Rue Saint-Honoré Paris

For legend has it that it was Portuguese Jewish masters of chocolate making who, seeking refuge in the Faubourg Saint-Esprit in Bayonne in 1615, turned that south-western town into France's first chocolate manufacturing centre. These Jewish refugees were among those expelled from Spain under the Catholic Inquisition. Many moved to Catholic Portugal where provided they "converted" -- to become Novos Cristoes or New Christians, identifiable today by the names of trees and plants such as "oliveira", the olive tree, or "Espirito Santo", the Holy Spirit -- were allowed to dwell relatively untroubled.

... to the First chocolatier Boutique in France.
In 1659, Louis XIV granted a license to David Chaillou, first valet to the Comte de Soissons, to open a boutique in Paris to "make and sell chocolate to every city in the kingdom, whether in the form of a liquor, a slab or in boxes". Thus the first chocolatier in France was set up in Rue de l'Arbre-Sec. Because chocolate at the time was a hugely expensive pleasure its customers tended to be courtiers and wealthy townsfolk.

1814 saw the proper birth of a chocolate industry: with the first chocolate factories established in Europe as forerunners of today's big names. Chocolate at this time was widely consumed in Catalonia and in what is today Languedoc Roussillon. The first factory in France was founded by chocolate-maker Jules Pares in 1814 in the Pyrenees-Orientales.

1920's Chocolate Chic
1920's Chocolate Chic

An Investment in Taste
Today a new generation of artisan chocolatiers is investing in Paris salons, boutiques and bars to cater for the capitals' chocoholics.

According to New York Times food writer Amy Thomas: "One of the most lauded new names on the scene is Franck Kestener, who debuted in Paris near the Luxembourg Garden with silky ganaches and intense bonbons in flavours like buttery tarte tatin, fresh mint and roasted sunflower seeds. But it is his cannelés that truly transcend. Though they look like the traditional tender, custardy pastries, Kestener's treats are filled with a light and fluffy whipped chocolate marshmallow - the perfect finish to un jour chocolat."

Historic Monument
Boutiques and chocolate emporia can be found all around France but the most elegant and chic are, naturally, the Parisian establishments. Among these is Debauve et Gallais, whose main chocolate outlet at 30, Rue des Saints-Pères - Paris, in the VII arrondissement, is a mythic site for all true chocolate connoisseurs. The shop which is now on the protected French Historic Monument List, was designed by Percier and Fontaine, two architects chosen by Napoleon to design La Malmaison as the residence for the Empress Joséphine.

Probably the most famous name in the tradition of French chocolate making history is that of Jean-Antoine-Brutus Menier who set up as a chocolatier in 1825.

The Story of Menier Chocolate
To view the history of Mennir Chocolate - click here
click the poster above to read the history of the famous Menier Chocolate

Chocolate Links
Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat
Guide to the best chocolate makers in France
Another guide to French Chocolatiers
Jean-Paul Hévin Chocolatier's Paris boutique
Un Dimanche à Paris, chocolate concept store Paris
Franck Kestner Chocolatier, Paris
Debauve et Gallais

Chocolate Curiosity
1950's Chocolate Curiosity

Article: Ken Pottinger

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