A Mayan Kakaw Celebration
Author: Bertram Gordon
Title: Chocolate in France: The Evolution of a Luxury Product.
Chocolate is said to have been introduced into France variously by Anne of Austria, the wife of Louis XIII; Maria Theresa, the wife of Louis XIV; Cardinal Alphonse de Richelieu, brother of the more famous churchman of the same name; and by Portuguese and Spanish Jews fleeing the Inquisition and allowed to make and sell chocolate in the French Basque country. What is clear is that a fashion for chocolate, primarily as a beverage for the upper social classes, developed in the second half of the 17th century and that it was part of a growing refinement of dining styles in France at the time. Special chocolate pots [chocolatieres], often of silver and porcelain, were crafted for what became the chocolate service, as witnessed in the letters of the Marquise de Sevigne. The first appearance of the word “chocolate” in a French dictionary came with the publication of Pierre Richelet’s Dictionary of 1680. Increased chocolate consumption encouraged the production of cacao in the 1660s in Martinique, which supplied the metropole and became an economic linchpin of Louis XIV’s and Colbert’s etatist mercantile system. By the end of the 17th century, chocolate use and its discourse had entered upper class French dietary, medicinal, theological, and esthetic discourse, and had penetrated the world of theater in the 1682 play, “Arlequin, Lingere du Palais.” A popular song of 1738 was entitled “Cresme au Chocolat.” Although chocolate appears in many recipe books of the 18th century and was available for sale on a mail order basis, it remained relatively expensive and inaccessible to the lower classes. Three significant developments in the 19th century altered the course of chocolate history in France, as elsewhere: 1) Coenraad Johannes Van Houten’s hydraulic press, invented in 1828 in Holland, efficiently separated the cacao butter from the chocolate powder and made hard chocolate more economical to produce, 2) the crank ice cream maker invented by the American Nancy Johnson in 1846, and 3) the introduction of milk chocolate by Daniel Peter in Switzerland in 1875. The industrialization of the chocolate-making process, together with falling sugar prices, in the second half of the 19th century made chocolate accessible to the middle and lower classes and contributed to the growth of firms such as Menier and Poulain, which helped France establish a worldwide reputation as a producer of fine chocolate.
Before van Houten invented the hydraulic press to press the cocoa butter out of the chocolate liquor (the product of crushed cacao beans), cocoa had been made by boiling and skimming the chocolate liquor to remove the cocoa butter. Chocolate liquor is a misleading term for a thick, gritty paste—a solid mass of ground cacao nibs that only turns liquid when it is heated. It is composed of about half cocoa butter and half cocoa solids—the pure ground product of the roasted cacao beans, and the base for all chocolate products. Instead of boiling and skimming this mass to make hot chocolate, Van Houten’s hydraulic press applied great pressure to the mass to press out most of the cocoa butter. What remains, the press cake, is then pulverized into cocoa powder.