It is a little-known fact that Bayonne was the first chocolate-making city in France. In the 17th century, a wave of Jewish immigrants settled there, fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese inquisition and bringing the savoir-faire as a prized possession in their luggage. Local artisans quickly learned how to make the magic happen with those mysterious beans from the New World, and developped the production themselves. One century later, they created a Chocolate Maker's Guild, and swiftly excluded Jews from it (how nice). These businesses were often family-owned, and transmitted from father to son. In the middle of the 20th century, the growing industrialisation of chocolate production made it difficult for them to survive, and many of these families had to close shop. Seven of them still exist to this day and I was very eager to visit the longest established, Cazenave, which was created in 1854.
Bayonne is renowned for its hot chocolate (originally flavored with cinnamon) and its dark and bitter chocolate -- a very good thing since this happens to be my personal preference. In their very pretty boutique on rue du Port-Neuf, Cazenave offers a variety of chocolate bites and confections as well as caramels and turons, but to really taste the chocolate itself I simply bought a 100g-bar of chocolat à l'ancienne (lehen bezala in Basque), their 70% blend. You may find this hard to believe, but it travelled with us, untouched, all the way back to Paris.
Verdict? This is a very elegant chocolate: it has a powerful nose, and an excellent balance between subtly sweet and subtly bitter. Deeply flavored, with woody/mushroomy and spicy/peppery hints, it is slightly acidulated and nicely long on the palate. It also offers just the right textural resistance -- your tooth needs a slight effort to break in, and after that the square just melts on your tongue with abandon.
I enjoyed Bayonne tremendously: paved little streets, lovely quays on either side of the river Nive (where weird guys insist you take pictures of them), and plenty of good restaurants. We had dinner (at Le Bayonnais) and lunch (at Chez Txotx) there, and I can recommend both places for their good service and excellent local specialties -- a bonanza of seafood à la plancha, Basque tapas, chipirons (a type of squid) and piquillos (small marinated red peppers).
19 rue du Port-Neuf
05 59 59 03 16
[Note that the boutique also operates as a salon de thé, where they are said to serve a killer chocolat mousseux (frothy chocolate).]
Elsewhere in France and in Paris in particular, look for L'Atelier du Chocolat de Bayonne, 27 boutiques that belong to a franchise created by Serge Andrieu, a descendant of a local chocolate maker.
38 quai des Corsaires
05 5925 61 19
49 quai Jauréguiberry
05 59 59 16 80
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All writing and photography on Chocolate & Zucchini is Copyright Clotilde Dusoulier © 2003-2012 unless indicated otherwise. All rights reserved.