Chocolates Flavored With History and Heritage

PARIS — Caramels made of butter and cream from in the Bresse region of France. Almonds from the Drôme region, combined with pistachios, candied oranges or nougatine for the hand-glazed Amandes Bellecour.

Those are just a couple of the specialties from Palomas, one of the oldest chocolateries in Lyon, France. Now the shop is readying a new chapter, complete with a kind of haute couture presentation.

Like many a French heritage fashion house, Palomas has a storied past. But when Dominique Clerc, a master chocolatier, and his wife, Mika, purchased Palomas in 2011, it was an all-but-forgotten candy shop, said Mr. Clerc, 44.

They were charmed by the store’s sense of presentation, as well as its picture-postcard location in the historic center, near Place Bellecour and the Cathedral St.-Jean-Baptiste. The neighborhood, known as Presqu’île, is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site in the city.

But what really convinced Mr. Clerc, he said, was what he found in the chocolate-making atelier. Vintage cocoa bean crushers dating from the mid-20th century were still in working order, and the archives revealed a handful of patented recipes — for example, the discs of ultrafine dark chocolate called Délicia or the Palets de Fourvière, a hazelnut and chocolate praline coated in white meringue, named for the hill overlooking Lyon.

“I’ve always been enamored of old mechanics and traditional savoir-faire,” Mr. Clerc said. “So when I saw the setup and took a closer look at some of the original recipes, they were so straight to the point it was like I could read the founder’s original intent.

“It was old-fashioned, yet the products’ simplicity made it crazy modern. To me, it had extraordinary hidden potential.”

The shop was opened in 1917 by Louis Palomas, a chocolate maker, and became quite famous in the area thanks, in part at least, to the post-World War I baby boom, Mr. Clerc said.

Mrs. Palomas — no one knows her first name — was a midwife who began offering a box of her husband’s chocolates to every new mother she met. So for most of the 20th century, Palomas flourished thanks to orders for large platters of chocolates presented at christenings, communions and other family celebrations.

Today, Mr. Clerc, who trained with the celebrated pâtissier Gérard Mulot and once worked for Pierre Hermé in Tokyo, carries on the Palomas tradition of making chocolates by hand and on-site with his staff of 10 chocolate makers, while Mrs. Clerc welcomes customers and manages the supply chain. But he has broadened the original offer to include sugar-free, vegan and gluten-free options, as well as organic chocolate bars made of cocoa from Ghana, Madagascar, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

Last year, Mr. Clerc trademarked a creation of his own, Langues de Lyon, so named because the shape of the treat made from organic Peruvian chocolate resembles the traditional “langues de chat” or cat’s-tongue biscuits.

Prices range from eight euros ($9.25) for a box of 18 Délicias to €115 for a 110-piece assortment weighing one kilogram (2.2 pounds).

But while the chocolatier said he remains true to the original Palomas taste by focusing on intensity of flavor, sourcing and using as little sugar as possible, he now is ready to expand.

In December, Palomas is to open a second, larger chocolate shop and atelier in a converted printing house in the Sixth Arrondissement of Lyon, east of the Rhône River and near the Parc de la Tête d’Or.

To celebrate the move, Mr. Clerc decided to present a new collection, called “Folie Palomas.” Assortments of 300 chocolates are presented in handmade boxes covered in a choice of five textiles produced by Maison Bucol, a heritage fabric maker in Lyon that now is part of the Hermès group. Each box is €700, excluding shipping, and weighs 2.7 kilograms.

Extravagant? Definitely. But Mr. Clerc said he considered it more like “a festive convergence of French savoir-faire,” involving two heritage houses and many specialized skills, in addition to the dozens of steps required to make Palomas sweets.

“For us, it goes far beyond chocolates,” he said. “It’s an adventure among artisans who all speak the same language, share a culture of craft and set the bar high. Ultimately, we all are inspired by beauty.”

Source: Einnews

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