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Bayonne is a terrific small city. Historic, lovely half-timbered Basque houses with green and red trim. Two rivers running though the heart of the center. Innumerable good bistros, cafés, a lovely market. A great Cathedral, still welcoming pilgrims traversing the Santiago de Compostela routes. Passionate rugby fans, personable people. Yes, Bayonne, and the Pays Basque in general, have much to offer.
Bayonne is famous for its jambon de Bayonne and its regional sheep milk cheeses. Local spice comes from Piment d’Espelette, the only pepper with AOC status. But, it is chocolate in Bayonne that really gets one’s reveries flowing. Chocolate in your pot and on the plate. Chocoholics eat and drink their dark chocolate here, savoring both the exquisite flavors and the bittersweet history of chocolate in this fabled region of the French Pays Basque.
An abbreviated history of chocolate in France tells the tale of a population of skilled Jewish artisans who were expelled from Spain during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella. Many thousands of Spanish Jews resettled in Portugal, only to be expelled from Portugal a short while later. Bayonne welcomed these immigrants whose many skills included fabricating chocolate into drinkable form.
Cortes was smitten with chocolate in Mexico and shipped it back to Spain by the boatload. Pure chocolate in those days was bitter and inedible. Sugar was the missing ingredient and quickly the Spanish learned to love to drink chocolate, arguably the first Europeans to do so. That tradition was taken to France where chocolate was not known. Bayonne, and later Biarritz, became famous for chocolate and the drink became the darling beverage of kings, queens and their courts, later, of common folk. It was only in the 1800’s that chocolate was used to make ‘chocolates’ as we know them today, but that is another story.
Good chocolate abounds in Bayonne but there is one street in particular that is the center of centers. Within a few hundred yards of each other the rue Pont Neuf is home to the boutiques of Paries, Daranatz, Cazenave and L’Atelier du Chocolat. It seems that the rich dark scent of chocolate wafts up and down the street. Each is a little different. All are excellent.
Paries makes a wide selection of classic dark French chocolates. You will find chocolates flavored with espelette pepper and a few other modern choices, but basically these chocolates are traditional and delicious. They also make the local Touron, a sweet almond paste confection and, a particular type of macaron that was originated by the firm for the wedding of Louis the XIV in St. Jean de Luz .
Darantz makes dark chocolate bars and other rich chocolate confections. The shop is a lovely, tiled, old-fashioned feeling place that just invites chocolate consumption. Cazenave is famous for its chocolat mousseux a drink where pure chocolate power is frothed into a pretty flowered china cup, sporting a dome of chocolate foam that is quite something to behold. Cazenave serves a small pitcher of un-frothed chocolate your second helping alongside a bowl of pure whipped cream. They also make a chocolat à l’ancienne that is quite bitter and true to the old-style. Cazenave roasts its own chocolate beans, sourcing fine Venezulan, Costa Rican and Trinidadian chocolate.
Finally, L’Atelier du Chocolat sells a great selection of chocolates, bars, tablets, filled chocolates, even chocolate ‘bouquets’. Serge Andrieu is the master chocolatier that runs this inspired shop.
One more bonne addresse not on the rue du Port-Neuf, but quite close by, is Puyodebat Chocolatier whose shop is on the rue d’Espagne around the corner from the great gothic cathedral. Puyodebat is famous for crisp ‘craquants‘, dark chocolates with hazlenut bits, and also offers a full range of tempting chocolate confections. Two noteworthy dark, pure unadorned chocolates at Puyodebat are their Venezuelan chocolate, at 66% with a textured, earthy creamy flavor. The Madagascar chocolate at 65% is smooth and sophisticated.
Puyodebat also welcomes visitors to their main atelier in Cambo-les-Bains, a short drive out of Bayonne. The Chocolaterie-Musée is an excellent spot to see how chocolates are made, take a look at antique chocolate making equipment and come away with a renewed appreciation for these edible treasures.
Bayonne’s chocolate, in the pot or on your plate, is vaut le voyage. Go find your personal favorite!
ll’Atelier du Chocolat , 2, Rue des Carmes, corner of rue du Port-Neuf
Cazenave, 19, Rue du Port-Neuf
Daranatz Chocolatier , 15, Rue du Port-Neuf
Puyodebat , 66 Rue d’Espagn with info on visits to the Atelier.
Sally Peabody is a Paris Specialist who advises travelers on crafting memorable trips in and around Paris. She also leads small group culinary experiences in Paris, Lyon and the Pays Basque, all of which are meccas for fine chocolate and lots of good things to eat and drink. www.yourgreatdaysinparis.com 001 781 391 6183
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