It is believed that chocolate arrived in Europe during the 1500s, probably brought over from the region of Mexico by Spanish friars who had traveled to the Americas. Although Swiss and Belgian chocolatiers are world renowned, the French have also had their place in chocolate history.
In 1615, King Louis XIII was set to wed Anne of Austria, and she gave her husband-to-be a chest filled with chocolate as a wedding gift. King Louis instantly fell in love with the confection, which at that time was exclusively enjoyed by the noble and upper classes. After his reign was over, his successor King Louis XIV also enjoyed chocolate immensely. Each day, he requested that his chocolate maker create a hot chocolate concoction, which he also introduced to his court. It became a regular indulgence. King Louis XVI’s wife, Marie Antoinette, also brought her own chocolate maker with her when she married him, as it was a status symbol to have one on staff. (They famously had two.)
In 1816, a French pharmaceutical company called Menier started producing chocolate because it was thought that chocolate was a recreational drug with a soothing nature and a mild stimulus to it. As chocolate became more mainstream, Menier later sold the company to Nestlé. It was common for each city and town in France to have its own chocolatier, making lovely confections for birthdays, holidays, and gifts.
The French have perfected the art of making chocolate over the years, and premium chocolate has been produced in the small village of Tain-L’Hermitage since 1922. La Maison du Chocolat and Valrhona are also two well-known brands, each earning awards in Europe over the years. Closer to our own European Center in Talloires, there is Savoie Chocolat, which opened its doors in 1993 and later created the little round confection known as “les Tommes de Savoie.” During a 2016 survey conducted in France, 83% of the people reported that they ate chocolate at least once a week, and 30% of them consumed dark chocolate only because of its lower fat content. High quality chocolate, the kind that is produced in France, is meant to be savored – not eaten fast or in large amounts.
There are four main aspects to fine chocolate: first, it must not contain any visible white streaks, which often occurs when chocolate isn’t kept at the proper temperature. Second, it must be silky to the touch. Third, it must invoke your senses while eating it. And finally, the fewer the ingredients listed on the package, the better the product.
No matter whether you like dark or milk chocolate, there is no wrong time to indulge in this delicious treat.