I know a secret: where to get the best chocolates in France. But before I share it with you, I’m going to have to make a confession: I don’t really like chocolate very much. I never have.
So, how could I possibly know where to get THE BEST chocolates? My partner Francis doesn’t like chocolate either…he LOVES it. That’s how I know this secret. Francis’s great-grandfather was the best pastry chef in the regional capital city of Besancon, France… So, Francis grew up with high standards when it came to chocolates and pastries. (This is serious business, his great-grandfather even trained the White House’s pastry maker, Roland Mesnier: You can check out his book All the President’s Pastries: Twenty-five years in the White House) Francis has told me that as a child on holidays like Easter his mother and aunt always bought REAL chocolates from a professional chocolatier for the children. When we return to the States from France, Francis always brings a stack of chocolate bars which he meticulously classifies by expiration date in his special chocolate box to enjoy one square at a time all year. He passes on the family’s appreciation for chocolate by teaching our children to snub milk chocolate (“C’est pas du vrai chocolat.“) and he seeks out really high quality stuff when he can. He brought home one that even I liked, I think it was made from a “Criollo” cocoa bean… he said it was rare. If you see it, buy it… it was seriously yum!
The place I’m going to tell you about is in the capital of the wine-country of the French-Swiss Borderland region where we take guests who Sojourn there with us. ( I put it on both our Off-the-Beaten-Path sojourn AND our luscious Culinary Immersion sojourn.) It is a forth generation chocolate boutique that has been handed down through the men in the family, who have been honing the art of chocolate making to the point that the current owner was able to achieve one of France’s greatest accomplishments…. He won the equivalent of the gold medal at the chocolate-makers version of the Olympics. That is to say, he earned the honor of wearing the French tri-colors on his collar and the title of “Best Artisan in France” in his profession. In French this competition and title are called “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” or M.O.F. for short. If haven’t already seen Kings of Pastry, and you want an insider’s glimpse at the trials and rigors of the competition, I highly recommend this documentary (It’s been at the top of our film recommendation page for years!).
So when I say I know where to get the best chocolates in France, I’m not joking… the winners of the M.O.F. are a handful of the country’s finest. The one I have in mind is a chocolate-maker in Francis’ home region. People will drive for a fair distance to buy his chocolates, and getting a box of them as a gift speaks leagues about how much the giver appreciates you or the event to which you’ve invited them.
It’s Hirsinger in Arbois, a small city with ochre-stoned buildings that was made famous by Louis Pasteur and his famous discoveries that led to improved food preservation (among other revolutionary world-changing things). Hirsinger keeps an unusual schedule: they are closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays. One of Francis’ cousins told me that this is so Hirsinger can be with his children on Wednesday (there used to be a half-day for French school children every Wednesday… though I vaguely remember some rumblings about that being changed in 2013). In anycase, I guess you can do what you want when you are the best!
To my surprise and delight, the Paris-based chef & blogger David Lebovitz visited and wrote about our beloved chocolate shop.