The latest in the oldest

Paris – Chocolate & Cheese

The Eiffel Tower

Did you Know…?

The Eiffel Tower was erected as a temporary structure for the 1889 World Fair by Gustave Eiffel, construction having begun two years earlier. Coincidentally it coincided with the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution.

The height of the tower is 324m above street level.

The view from the top of the tower on a clear day is approximately 42 miles. But for an even more amazing view look from ground level up through its structure.

The tower is painted every seven year using 60 tons of paint.

It is made from 9441 tons of wrought iron and has 2,500,000 rivets in it.

In summer the tower expands 3.25 inches and in winter shrinks 6 inches.

There are 1710 steps to the third level platform.

It has two restaurants: Altitude 95 on the first platform and Jules Verne on the second.

At the time of its completion it was the tallest structure in the world.

In 1909 it was nearly demolished and sold as scrap.

Of Chocolate and Cheese

Could you resist the opportunity for a weekend in Paris? Irene Campbell certainly couldn’t.

Quickly checking into our hotel in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower we set off to explore the immediate neighbourhood of the 7th Arrondissement in which we were staying.

The pedestrianised rue Cler, and the little roads feeding into it, were crammed with food shops, their contents all beautifully displayed. Amongst them cheek-by-jowl were five shops selling chocolate and two specialist cheese stores.

The range of chocolates, their shapes, textures, varieties and flavours was vast, yet appeared to be similar in each shop. How, I wondered, did they manage to make a living, when they were so closely in competition with each other? It soon became clear that in fact each filled a different niche in the market.

We should have done our shopping the day we arrived but unfortunately we left our purchasing to the last day of our visit. Consequently with many of the shops shut on Mondays we were only able to investigate three of the chocolate shops.

A La Mère de Famille, on rue Cler, proved to be part of a chain of seven shops across Paris. Pierre Jean Bernard founded the original, a grocer’s shop, La Maison Bernard, in Montmartre in 1761. Through marriage the business passed to the Bridaults. The ‘Mère’ of the current name, was Marie Adelaide Bridault, whose reign from 1807, brought innovative ideas and new products heralding a golden age.

After 1856, with the development of sugar beet, a line of sweets was trialled and soon the shop began to specialise in confectionary. And so the business grew.

In 1985, the then owner, Serge Neveu put the emphasis on chocolate products. In the last few years the shops have multiplied and it is up to the current owner, Julien Merceron, to continue the tradition and reputation of this business, which celebrates its 250th anniversary this year and is Paris’s oldest sweet shop.

It was impossible to choose between the variety of loose chocolates and the piles of boxed selections. Along side all kinds of chocolates marrons glacé, calissons, pralines, marzipan and nougatine were piled high. The only solution was to be price led, a maximum of €5. Picking at random I chose a slender box of nine square dark chocolates with a soft vanilla and butter praline, with a smudge of gold leaf on top.

Christophe Roussel, on the other hand, is a young chocolatier, who, after a traditional apprenticeship, honed his skills in jobs around the world. He is based in la Boule, Loire-Atlantique where he employs 17 staff to create his signature chocolates an amalgam of unexpected colours, ingredients and flavours. The window display of his Paris shop in the Rue du Champ de Mars, is a rainbow of macarons. He is always on the look out for new combinations of flavours and textures. All three of his shop fronts (his third shop is in Guérande, Brittany) are instantly recognisable by their colourful, simple modern lettering.

Michel Chaudun is a more traditional chocolatier, with a shop at 149 rue de l’Université, where he creates his chocolates. The former head chocolatier at Maison de Chocolat Michel is considered to be one of the best in the world. The shop windows when we were there featured Japanese memorabilia, to acknowledge the three shops he has opened in Japan, alongside cocoa beans and their history. Inside, there are stacks of blocks of plain chocolate sorted by type of bean, chocolate letters and exquisite hand-made creations. Chocolate paves (cobblestones) are a speciality – a glorious ganache, lightly covered in powdered cocoa, which melted on the tongue. Sadly my €5 limit bought only a small 100g block of plainly wrapped chocolate.

Cheese shop

Within 100 yards of each other, two cheese shops demanded attention. La Fromagerie Cler on rue Cler is a large shop, which offers cheese from overseas as well as France. An American couple, in front of us were asking for cheddar. La Fromagerie’s range of cinder covered goats cheese pyramids was impressive and I was awestruck that the server could remember all the varieties on display.

Fromagerie Marie-Anne Cantin by contrast is a smaller establishment in the rue du Champ de Mars. It is run by Marie Anne Cantin with her husband Antoine Dias. She inherited the tradition of cheese merchant and refiner from her father Christian Cantin, who founded the establishment in 1950. He was also the founder of the Cheese Merchants’ Guild. Cheeses are selected from local producers throughout France and the maturation of the cheese is handled in the cellars in the store. An indication of Marie-Anne’s standing is the fact that she regularly supplies the cheese chariot for some of the best restaurants. Two-hour cheese dégustations can be arranged.

The sight of all the fabulous food shops made us hungry. Our appetites were amply satisfied in the welcoming embrace of 7e Vin, (septième vin) a small, traditional restaurant at 68 Avenue Bosquet. Here small tables, covered in red check tablecloths, were quickly filled by local businessmen and discerning tourists. Menus and the wine list are on chalk boards, the food is typically French with a large selection of fish and seafood and the service is exemplary. A truly hidden gem, to which we returned each day as, it seemed, did everyone else.

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