The history of chocolate in France is an illustrious tale involving a royal wedding, Kings and Queens, chemistry and an enduring passion for the sweet stuff…
History of chocolate in France
Chocolate first came to France in 1615; it was a gift to the 14 year old King Louis XIII from his 14 year old wife to be – Anne of Austria. It was said the chocolate was placed in a chest as a gift of great value, as indeed it was. Chocolate in those days was only for the nobility and the bourgeoisie. It was expensive, exotic and was considered an aphrodisiac and almost a recreational drug thanks to its soothing nature and the mild stimulatory kick.
In the early days it was taken in liquid form and the French confectioners would mix the cocoa bean paste with water or milk and add flavourings like chilli, all spice, cloves and vanilla.
Anne of Austria certainly started a trend – the Kings and Queens of France enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate and appointed their favourite chocolatiers to create for them. At Versailles, the delicacy became a customary delight. Louis XV was considered the greatest lover of the cocoa-based drink and would himself prepare his own hot chocolate in the kitchens of his private apartments. There would be great ceremony in the preparation, special pots to keep it warm, special cups to serve it made by the best manufacturers like Sèvres Porcelain and it would be sipped delicately for maximum enjoyment. Louis XV’s recipe has travelled down through the ages (as written by court chef Menon in 1755):
“Place the same quantity of chocolate bars and glasses of water in a coffee maker and boil gently; when you are ready to serve, place one egg yolk for four servings and stir over a gentle heat but do not boil. If prepared the night before, those who drink it every day leave a leaven for the one they make the next day; instead of an egg yolk you may use a whisked egg white after having removed the first mousse, mix it with some of the chocolate from the coffee maker then pour back into the coffee maker and finish the preparation as with the egg yolk.”
He would serve the chocolate to his mistresses and it was said that Madame du Barry found it as irresistible as her lover.
Marie-Antoinette was certainly very fond of chocolate, when she arrived at Versailles in 1770 to start a new life with her husband King Louis XVI she bought her own chocolate maker with her who took the recipes to a new level using orange blossom and almonds to flavour the mix. She started the day with a cup of thick creamy hot chocolate topped with more cream. She also believed in the adage that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down when her chocolate maker who was also a chemist created little round chocolate “pistoles” to eat when she had to take bitter medicine.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that chocolate became accessible to the masses as machines made production cheaper and easier. In France the big name was Menier (now part of Nestlé); founded in 1816 it was actually a pharmaceutical company. Chocolate was still considered medicinal and so production was a facet of the company’s curative output. The main suppliers to chocolate buyers were chemist shops although by the end of the 19th Century – more chocolate shops started to open and Menier was targeting children as consumers (as the poster from 1893 shows) of the “tonic”.
It wasn’t long before simple chocolate confectionery started to become a more accessible culinary delight. In the early twentieth Century chocolate shops were common in towns and cities and it became customary for people to give chocolate which was still quite expensive, as a gift. It is the same to this very day and chocolate gifts for birthdays, Christmas and as a dinner party offering are traditional and much loved.
Chocolatiers in France are highly trained and highly valued and chocolate remains incredibly popular in France where the average person eats 7kg each year.