Un Petit Goût for Chocophiles in France!
I’m compelled to begin this post with a shout out to the movie Chocolat, starring Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, and …swoon … Johnny Depp. It was filmed in the medieval village of Flavigny-sur-Ozerain in Burgundy and on the Rue De l’Ancienne Poste in the charming commune of Beynac-et-Cazenac, in the heart of Périgord Noir.
Beynac is found on the banks of the Dordogne River with a well-preserved 12thC castle, clinging to a steep cliff, once besieged by Richard the Lion Heart. Just ten kilometres from Sarlat, this village is distinctive with “lauze” stone slab-roofed houses and well worth a visit.
If you haven’t seen this movie, it’s not only delightful entertainment but also a satisfying armchair vacation. I must warn you, though, as swoon-worthy as M. Depp may be, the chocolate in the film is even more so!
And if you find yourself visiting the area with an uncontrollable yearning for chocolate, you’ll find there are plenty of chocolatiers in the area to keep you sweet.
Let’s talk history for un moment.
Cacao beans first appeared in Europe in the 1500’s when Spanish explorers returned home with them from Mexico and South America, where the crops were cultivated by Aztecs. When Anne of Austria, a Spanish princess (go figure), married Louis XIII of France in 1615 she brought with her to Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Bayonne, in the Pays Basque, the Spanish custom of drinking chocolate. Et voilà! That’s how the whole craze began. Read about France’s first chocolate makers here.
Initially only the very wealthy could afford the luxury of chocolate but today it’s out there in every way imaginable for each of us to enjoy. Since the 1700’s, chocolate has been referred to as the “food of the gods”. The French became renowned for their dark chocolate as the art of being a chocolatier developed into truly artisan craft. Today Paris is celebrated as a chocolate lover’s paradise.
The three basic types of French chocolates are bonbons (filled chocolates – often with creamy ganache), tablettes (bars) and truffes (truffles). Pardon me for drooling …
An article I recently read described the new crop of artisan chocolatiers as having raised the bar not only in quality but also in originality of presentation. Trust the French! One thing a visitor notices immediately is how artistically presented everything is in France and chocolate displays are no exception.
It’s not just chocolate when it comes to Patrick Roger. It’s more like a sweet creativity for your eyes and your mouth. Possibly the most talented chocolate maker in France, M. Roger is described as a chocolate sculptor and displays his creations in his six Paris stores. One of these can be found at 108 Boulevard Saint Germain.
One of many reasons I continue to return to a quaint rive gauche hotel is that several amazing shops, with their seasonal eye-popping displays as well as traditional standards, are nearby. Love macarons? Prepare yourself for a visit to the hyperchic shop of Pierre Hermé, on the Rue Bonaparte near the Église Saint-Sulpice. You will first notice the line snaking out the door and down the street as buyers patiently wait specifically for his dazzling macarons au chocolat. They’re reputed to be the best in the country.
Be sure to have comfy shoes when you set off on your chocolate search. As we know well, in Paris you must be a flaneur, a stroller. It’s the best way to appreciate the beauty of this magnificent city and to find your way to some of the most tantalizing and delectable chocolate ever. Vive le chocolat! Vive la France!
Patricia Sands lives in Toronto, Canada, and calls the south of France her second home. I Promise You This, Book3 in her award-winning Love in Provence series, will be published in May 2016. Find Patricia at her Facebook or Amazon Author Page or her website.