Long associated with some of the very best chocolate in the world, France takes its chocolate making perhaps more seriously than any other country. How, then, did France come to gain this reputation for gourmet chocolate, and what contributions has it made to the history of chocolate as a whole? Who are some of the top chocolate makers in France, and is it possible to make visits to the country to learn more about how chocolate is made and sold? By looking at these areas in more detail, it’s possible to appreciate France’s association with gourmet chocolate.
France’s role in the development of gourmet chocolate came some time after cocoa beans and chocolate were being brought back from the New World to Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Rich, dark chocolate made from cocoa beans by the Aztecs became a delicacy in the Spanish and French courts, and gradually developed to include sweeter tastes and combinations. 18th century France particularly latched onto chocolate through pastries and sweets, as well as to its aphrodisiac qualities. Mass production of chocolate saw France gain a further reputation for excellence through its commitment to the very best blending methods, and the creation of the French Academy of Chocolate and Candy Making in 1901.
France’s reputation for gourmet chocolate strengthened during the 20th century as French chocolatiers became important parts of restaurants and chocolate selling boutiques. Today, France has around 180 chocolate making workshops and facilities, with the chocolate industry employing 17,000 people. As well as gourmet chocolate, which is showcased at annual events like the Salon du Chocolat, French chocolate companies produce cocoa powder, sweets, and pastries for worldwide sale.
Some of the leading French gourmet chocolate brands include Ferrero France, Valrona, La Maison du Chocolat (who also make truffles, pralines, and ganaches), and region specific brands such as Michel Cluizel in Normandy, which has been in operation since 1948. Other chocolate brands like Pralus and Bonnat bring only the best beans and other ingredients together from around the world, or use the best cocoa butter, as is the case with the Mademoiselle de Margaux Chocolate company in the Medoc region of France.
It’s possible to learn more about French gourmet chocolate, and even try a bit, by taking a chocolate-themed holiday to the country. A trip to Paris can involve chocolate classes with master chocolatiers, as well as tours of famous chocolate shops in the Left Bank. In terms of factory visits, places like the Chocolaterie de Beussent Lachelle provide guided tours of how chocolate is made. You can also visit museums like the Chocolaterie du Drakkar et Musee du Chocolate in Bayeux in Normandy. Other chocolate workshops include the Chocolatrium Michel Cluizel, as well as the Les Secrets du Chocolat museum.
When making these trips, it’s worth enjoying yourself by staying in cottages and gites near to some of the best gourmet chocolate regions and factories. For example, if staying in Normandy, cottages like the Vaumont Vue in Calvados is ideal for two people wanting a self-catered accommodation. Other destinations include Orne, where many self catering cottages are available, and provide access to the Maine Natural Park, and the nearby coast.
Ben K is a well-travelled blogger and writer working for various travel websites, most recently writing about that dream holiday to France.