A Rocher That Rocks!

By Sally Peabody


 
 


Biarritz, a soigne little seaside resort in the delightful French Pays Basque region, has drawn visitors, humble and haute, for centuries. Indeed one of its grand seafront hotels, still welcoming guests in baronial style, was once the suitably extravagant seasonal home to Napoleon III and Princess Eugenie.

Contemporary visitors to this year-round seaside destination include golfers, serious surfers, and other lovers of active sports, plus a variety of summertime sun and beach seekers. As might be expected in a French town of any size and wealth, the historic town centre is full of all manner of adorable shops, cheery winebars, welcoming bistros and beautiful little food shops. Always on the lookout for good chocolate, I discovered several chocolatiers in Biarritz in just an hour’s exploratory stroll, but the undisputed gem in a crown of several jewels is C. Henriet.

Henriet and other master chocolatiers in this beguiling corner of far southwestern France, have a bittersweet history. It seems that the art of making, eating and drinking chocolate in France had its origins with the community of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were expelled from their home countries following the era of the reconquista. A sizeable Jewish community, expert in chocolate making and in other trades, migrated to the Bayonne-Biarritz area and set up shop anew centuries ago, establishing a grand and delicious artisanal tradition in France and throughout Europe.

Members of the Henriet family have plied their trade as fine chocolatiers for several generations. Arriving a few days after Easter (one of the top seasons for elaborate and whimsical chocolate specialties all over France) I found the shop replete with a veritable chocolate menagerie, including fish, adorable bunnies, chicks, rabbits, even small chocolate sailboats with little candy boys manning their decks. As with every artisanal producteur in France, Henriet is known for a particular specialty, in this case, it is their Rochers. They are named for the rochers or spectacular large rocks off the coast that have been the bane of shipping for centuries but which surely make for some spectacular surf. Rochers of the edible-ilk are nubby textured, dark chocolate ball-like creations that are a sublime blend of top quality dark chocolate, tiny bits of oranges confits¹ and chunks of grilled almonds.

As the personable proprietaire told me “We aim for equilibrium.” Indeed no one flavor predominates in these luscious treats but the sum of the parts blissfully enhances each element, creating a happy gastronomic marriage. Delicious.

Henriet also makes a full line of classic chocolates, dark and dark-milk, plus gorgeous mendiants, chocolate discs with nuts and savory dried fruits topping the chocolate. Most mendiants are simply nuts and fruit on chocolate disks. These are made extra attractive by dusting the nuts with a bit of sugar to add texture and visual interest. On the more humorous side, Henriet makes small chocolate berets, to celebrate the emblematic cap worn proudly in this Basque region of France.

Chocolates are attractively packaged in Henriot’s signature dark blue boxes tied up with with deep blue satin ribbons. You can also buy one or two bonbons to taste without committing to a full box. All are alluring to the eye and irresistible to the palate. A winning combination.

Henriet, Avenue Aristide Bassilour, Biarritz center. France.

 


Sally Peabody is a Paris specialist and writer. She works with independent travelers to Paris to craft great trips and leads small group culinary and tea and chocolate tours. Visit http://yourgreatdaysinparis.com
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