November 20, 2018

Celebrating Jews and Chocolate on Bastille Day

Today’s elegant and plentiful French chocolate culture may very well be indebted to Jews exiled from Spain as an article in the LA Times of July 3 briefly noted. Today chocolate makers in Bayonne, France, as well as the tourist maps, postcards, and museum labels generally spout the claim that Jews introduced chocolate making to France. As the company literature of L’Atelier du Chocolat de Bayonne has said:

“À Bayonne l’origine de la fabrication et de la consomma- tion du chocolat semble remonter au début du VXIIème siècle, lorsque les Juifs pourchassés par l’Inquisition s’installèrent dans le bourg de Saint Esprit.”

“At Bayonne the origins of the manufacturing and the consumption of chocolate happened at the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the Jews exiled from the Inquisition settled in the suburb of Saint Esprit.”

By the 1630s there were approximately sixty Jewish (probably converso) families living in Bayonne, France, which had formally admitted small numbers of conversos.

Bayonne Jews such as Emil Péreire, Isaac Péreire, Alvaro Luiz, Jacome Luiz, and Aaron Colace were in the business of exporting, re-exporting, and smuggling cacao. Jews played a key role in this tremendously profitable trade through Bayonne. Ties between the Bayonne Jewish merchants and the Amsterdam Jewish community furthered the commerce of cacao.

Because of this chocolate trade and because of the local Jewish chocolate makers, Bayonne became known as a chocolate center. With time the reputation of Bayonne chocolate was so well established that dealers in Carcassonne, a fortified town in the southwest region of France—a significant distance in those days—preferred chocolate primarily from the Bayonne area.

I look forward to a hot chocolate in Bayonne when Mark and I lead a group tour there in May of 2016 for the Chocolate Festival, as well as to  Spain. It will undoubtedly evoke in our taste buds a chocolate trail reaching from Mexico, to Spain, to southwest France.

More about this Bayonne Jewish chocolate connection may be found in “>registration is now open for the excursion to Southwest France and Spain, May 1-12, 2016, to learn more about the Jewish history and the chocolate culture of both countries. Register before December 1 to receive a free copy of the book.