I was lucky enough to be invited to the inauguration party of the Salon du Chocolat at the Grand Palais Lille this year.
I have to be honest and say that I hate driving to Lille! I live in the very beautiful 7 Vallées in Pas de Calais – it is an area of outstandingly beautiful countryside. A place of winding country lanes, fields full of cows and fertile pastures, streams flow gently through villages complete with old houses and where everyone knows everyone. Even though I lived and worked in London for a long time – I’ve very quickly become accustomed to the tranquillity of French country life.
Lille is a big metropolis.
Every time I drive there I get stuck in a traffic jam and nowhere else have I ever seen anyone drive like some people do on the ring roads around this city! I’ve driven in Paris, London, Rome, Johannesburg and Sydney – in all of them I have had hair raising moments but nothing like Lille.
This trip was no different – I was astonished to have cars speeding past and cutting just in front to take a turn off and cars driving at speed literally a few feet from our car’s bumper – although that does seem to be a bit of a French thing!
Anyway, I arrived, a bit fraught and with a headache from the stress of it all – but the minute I walked in, the sensuous waft of chocolate hit my senses and I was transported to chocolate heaven!
Stall after stall of macarons, ice cream, chocolate, candied fruit, nougat, fudge, herbs, spices and jams – the very best you can find in France, from the south to the north – all gathered in one room!
If you’re a chocoholic – you may think you’ve died and gone to heaven, though you had better take a large purse with you! This is not supermarket chocolate of the “stack ‘em high” sort – this is chocolate made by artisans, people who spend years learning how to make chocolate, sweets, jams and cakes and it comes at a price – as you’d expect for such a huge amount of work.
Some of the stalls offered a “dégustation” – a little taste of chocolate or produce they were selling and I absolutely fell in love with a pear and caramel jam from the South of France – it was like summer in a jar. I was actively encouraged to try all the jams which had the most amazing names like “confiture de bisous” (jam kisses) it was heavenly. I also had a taster at the Beussent chocolate stall – melt in your mouth, top quality, smooth, sweet, spicy chocolate… they have an atelier (workshop) in Pas de Calais, in the north of France and I will be visiting for a tasting tour quite soon – it’s hard work but it has to be done!
The Salon du Chocolat is famed for its fashion show with costumes featuring elaborate chocolate accessories but I’m afraid we were disappointed that the small runway area was so absolutely mobbed that it was impossible to see anything. Frustratingly cheers and gasps were heard from those who had queued to get to the front where they could see so we have to assume it was good but perhaps not such good planning in the layout.
The Salon du Chocolat run events all over France and indeed around the world, if you’re into chocolate – check out their website for details of all their events.