Hirsinger Chocolate

Jura chocolates

I wasn’t expecting to find a great chocolate shop in the Jura, a region of France known best for its exceptional cheeses, namely Mont d’Or, Comté, and Bleu de Gex. But a friend had arranged a visit for me since he knew I loved chocolate, and I was surprised (yet happy) to see such a sleek store run by a master chocolatier in a lesser-known part of France, where I was visiting.

sesame chocolates French chocolates

It’s a bit unusual to find sophisticated pastries in the smaller towns in the countryside. One of the main reasons is that, as you can imagine, they’re expensive to produce because of the work involved and the ingredients. So many of the chocolatiers and pastry makers set up shop in Paris. But Édouard Hirsinger the forth generation of chocolatiers and pastry makers in his family, who’ve been in business for over a hundred years in the charming little town of Arbois, seems to be doing pretty well right where he is.

The region is also known for the Vin du Jura and Vin Jeune, both are hearty wines that compliment the mountain cheeses that the region is justifiably famous for. And if you go, definitely try as many of the cheeses as possible, plan to spend a little time strolling around the town and sipping some of the unusual wines in the tasting rooms. But also leave some time for a visit Hirsinger.

chocolates

The owner and head chef is an MOF, a designation given to very few pastry chefs in France who pass a difficult test and are given the honor of wearing red, white and blue stripes on the collar of their chef’s jacket. (One chef told me you could go to prison for wearing the collar if you didn’t have the MOF designation.) Some of you might have seen a film called Kings of Pastry which detailed the behind-the-scenes of the pastry competition, which was quite riveting. I won’t ruin the film but I actually jumped off my seat when a culinary mishap occurred. In short, I felt their pain.

pastries

There were some lovely tartlets and small cakes at Hirsinger, plus a stack of round, sugar-covered panettone loaves that the bakery makes after they had an Italian fellow working in the bakery, which have become a popular holiday treat in this French town.

I went up the attic of the building with Chef Hirsinger. As we took the elevator up, which was actually just big enough for half a person, and the door opened, he said this room was usually empty. Yet for now, the long tables were lined with boxes of chocolates which they were packing up to sell the upcoming week, since it was right before Christmas. And indeed, when I was in the shop, one woman walked in to pick up her order for twelve boxes. Then bought another six to add to her bag.

praline chocolates nougat blog

Unlike some of the other French chocolatiers, M. Hirsinger calls his chocolates Chocolat Vivant (Living Chocolate) because he uses a variety of unusual spices and flavor combinations, many of which I’m pretty sure would have surprised his father and grandfather.

Some of the chocolates I tasted were filled with quince jelly made from fruits poached in spiced red wine, a crunchy Speculoos spice cookie topped with a dab of salted caramel then enrobed in dark or milk chocolate (I had to try both, for the sake of comparison…of course), a curious saffron-flavored ganache, the “raised comma”, which indicated a roasted cashew nestled just under the surface, and le Palet d’or a square of chocolate filled with barely sweet chocolate ganache topped with a dab of gold leaf.

A few others were spiced exotically with piment d’Espelette (smoked pepper powder) and green cardamom. Another was flavored with Absinthe (which is made locally) and the Quattro which he told me was the only chocolate in France that had four textures. I took one for the team (ie: you) and although I can’t vouch that it was indeed the only four-textured chocolate in the country, if anyone wants to finance further explorations to verify that claim, I’m happy to take on the task.

cookie molds

People often quip that France is “a country of museums” because no matter how small or insignificant something might seem to be, there’s certain to be at least one museum dedicated to it. And because chocolate museums are the most profitable, those seem to be the most frequently opened, even in places with just the scarcest relationship to the history of chocolate. But no town, large or small, seems to be without at least one museum touting the local specialty.

In the museums, after you pay the few euros for admission, they make you watch a movie that was seemingly made in 1978, grainy and overly saturated with colors. And invariably the films are full of smiling people, think women with broad hairbands and bangs and men with shags and bushy mustaches, sitting in verdant pastures eating whatever it is that the museum features. I usually can’t resist giggling at how goofy they seem, although the other patrons are usually oohing and aahing and I have to keep my, um, ‘delight’ under wraps.

(Recently we were at a cheese museum and I whispered to Romain that the woman ladling the milk into the cheese molds bore a striking resemblance to George Washington, complete with the elongated nose and resplendent sidecurls of white hair. After trying to hold it in, and trying not look at each other, we finally had to excuse ourselves since the other folks were having difficulty concentrating on the film.)

chocolate molds

I always want to race past the hokey displays of mannequins stirring cauldrons or sitting around a table in those places. So when Chef Hirsinger asked us if we wanted to go see his museum in the basement, I wasn’t all that excited. When we reached the bottom of the stairs to the basement, I did anything but laugh because underneath the ancient gothic arches was a room full of antique baking and ice cream-making equipment that was like nothing I’d ever seen before.

A giant Bonnat mixer from the 1930s that was reminiscent of the vintage KitchenAid model I saw when I toured the KitchenAid factory. The wall was lined with pristine condition wooden Speculoos molds for making the famed spiced cookies, and it was hard to believe they were over two hundred years old. I especially liked the two peas in a pod and I was especially glad to see that I’m not the only one in this business with a goofy sense of humor.

pea cookie molds

There were a pair of beautiful vintage metal ice cream molds in the shape of doves that came apart in three places, which his grandfather had used to make frozen decorations for wedding cakes. (Which I was sure would fit nicely in my suitcase, and in my kitchen.) And there were some pretty unusual chocolate molds, like these scissors.

ice cream scoops scissor chocolate molds

A hundred years ago, ice wasn’t easy to come by in France (come to think of it, it still is…) hence ice cream wasn’t so easy to make and he said that in the early years his great grandfather would take a customer’s order for ice cream then go downstairs and hand-churn a scoop of order until it was firm enough to serve. Quelle service!

ice cream machine

Being a bit woozy from the chocolate tasting, I didn’t catch the precise date when it was used, but there was an imposing distributeur automatique (vending machine) that sold ice cream in little cups which the chef told me used to be stationed outside the shop in the summer. He opened the door to show me the mechanism which held six various flavors, and clients would drop a five centime coin in the slot and out would pop a small cup of ice cream.

popsicle holder

But of all things, I was smitten with the two sets of metal popsicle molds they had. I mean, since he had two, he certainly could stand to part with one—right? In fact, next time I go I think I’ll ask. And I’d put it to good use. No snickering.

Hirsinger
Place de la Liberté
Arbois, France
Tél: 03 84 66 06 97



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Comté Cheese Ripening (part 2)

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Jean-Charles Rochoux

Chocolatiers and Chocolate-makers

Henri Le Roux

Vietnamese Coffee Popsicles

34 comments

  • david you have to know how absolutely lucky you are do be able to do posts like these. i live for shops just like this. old school all the way. love those molds. fabulous post!

  • This post just blew my mind; this shop would be such a treat in and of itself to enjoy exploring and learning about!

  • Wow, really neat old baking equipment! And the chocolates look lovely!

  • oh i absolutely love this post, david. it’s got just about everything i love, and everything that makes me love france so much. and i’m not only talking about that deliriously tempting nougat above. but the old molds too. the handmade chocolates. all in all, going to any totally unknown village in any corner of france and you are 100% certain to find an outstanding local specialty, a family run business, generations old recipes… everywhere ! as you just discovered with a mof pastry chef !! it’s simply fascinating.

    as for a museum of just about anything, i had to giggle at that. we were just on la palma (canary island) and what did we see – not only the museo del platano, but also a museum of mojo rojo. literally !

    going to scroll up again to look at the images here once more, mmm to those sesame confections. reminds me of a bowl of them that were always at my grandparent’s house…

  • I really enjoyed this post – I’m an ice cream and chocolate fan too. What a treasure to find a museum in someone’s basement! I purchased two of those super heavy metal chocolate molds designed for rows of small squares at an antique mall in Maryland and was wondering if you would advise using it. If so, what do I use to grease the mold? I’m not sure if it’s made of iron but it has a few rusty corners. My only experience with making chocolate candies is with a plastic mold. Thanks!

  • One more thing – I saw those large scissor-shaped chocolates and other tool-shaped chocolates sold at a chocolate store in the city of Assisi, Italy, back in 2005. It was dusted with chocolate powder to give it a rusty look. It’s nice to see your photos of those molds. If you have an email address, I can send you the photo I took.

  • Nice to know I’m not the only one who calls a marron a “marron”.. hey David, I know you are super busy, but I was wondering, if you have a moment, can you send me the recipe for the snowman (in your prior post).?

    The tools are tres inspiring..

  • When I saw Hirsinger I immediately thought Arbois! and then Yes! I stayed in a gite just outside of Arbois in 2004 and went to Hirsinger almost daily. I loved it and you brought back memories of a wonderful time. I didn’t get to see the attic or the basement unfortunately. Arbois is a beautiful place to spend some time as also has some great cremant.

  • Thank you for this wonderful post, although I’m horribly envious that you have access to so much beautiful, delicious hand made chocolate when it’s a struggle for me, in Canberra Ausralia, to find any truffle that doesn’t just taste like sugar!

    My first experience with piment d’Espelette was in a French chocolate by Bovetti… oh how I long for more!

  • Sounds like an amazing place.The chocolates look absolute delish!

  • Piment d’Espelette with chocolate sounds amazing. I’ve had a cayenne pepper/milk chocolate truffle (actually, I’ve had dozens) that was excellent. Have you ever tried chocolate covered bacon? A friend insisted for weeks that we make a batch, and when I finally succumbed to her wishes I regretted waiting so long.

  • Hi David,

    I think you mean Hirsinger is in *Arbois* (with a b). A great little shop.

    Gavin

  • I greatly admire people like Hirsinger who can inherit a tradition and respect it but who also have the creative drive to take it somewhere new. A particularly interesting post.

  • Places like this are what make Europe so alluring to Americans… heritage that’s older than most of our country!

  • I see you will be in Austin, TX in Jan. If you haven’t had them, be sure to have migas-a mexican breakfast. Best thing besides barbeque in TX.

  • There is always a booth at the Brimfield Antiques festival in Massachusetts each summer that has antique chocolate and ice cream molds. Every year I am tempted to buy one … but can’t seem to justify the expense (usually hundreds of dollars). However, a popsicle mold is something I would surely put to good use …

  • Such a lovely post :) I want one of those raised commas!!

    The museums for just about everything is so true. I have been into a few that were so small and sad that I spent less than 5 minutes inside. Live and learn. I try to do my research now before just strolling into a museum.

    Thank you for the wonderful insights and virtual tours.

  • My pâtissier friend Bernard Bertheau – now retired, much to my chagrin – used to make his own chocolates for Christmas and Easter downstairs from the shop in Montmartre, in his “laboratoire”. When he retired, he sold off the stock of the shop, and I became the proud owner of some of his old chocolate molds. I’d be happy to show them to you any time I’m in Montmartre (the rest of the year in Michigan). Maybe you could show me how to use them?

  • The east of France has a lot more to offer than one might think! If you ever make it to the beautiful Vosges region, make sure to check our Carl chocolates in Saint-Dié des Vosges (the town in which America was first written on a map, for the trivia side of it). Their chocolates have been a favorite for years and they really master the art of praliné.

  • What a fabulous experience….you are so lucky !!! Thanks for sharing!

  • I havn’t gotten past the dark chocolate pic yet.YUM?!

  • Great photos ! What cool artifacts!

  • Thanks David for mentioning this chocolatier, i added to my list in case i go to the Jura someday. I love to see the Hirsinger museum, the molds look so interesting :-)

  • Just taking a break from holiday baking and what I previously thought of !! as making chocolate candies. Thanks for a lovely post and pictures that just sing.

  • Hi David, great to meat you at La Cuisine. I promised to let you know how you could book a meal at the Ecole Gregoire Ferrandi restaurant. The reservation number is 01 49 54 17 31 or you can eMail resaresto@ccip.fr. There are two restaurants – the first floor one is described as cuisine traditionelle (though it’s not bistro cooking, and is generally a modern approach to the classics), done by apprentices (CAP/bac) and the Anglo programme people (us). The 4th floor restaurant is for those doing the 2 year ecole superieure programme – and is described as ‘cuisine creative’. The restaurants are open for lunch on most days except Mondays, and on occasions in the evening. It’s a 5 course event including the amuse bouche. Lunch costs 20-30 euros excl wine, depending on restaurant and day of the week. Dinner, I think, is 35 € for the first floor.

    Loved the chocolate post – and thanks too for all the info re Paris chocolatiers. It has helped a lot with the Christmas shopping!

  • Dear David,

    I love chocolate, France, and your writing style.
    Merci pour tout ce que vous faites.

  • I’m an English assistant this year at one of the lycees in the Jura. When I arrived at the end of September, one of the profs took me to her house in Arbois. She took me tout de suite to Hirsinger, where the vendeuse recommended the tomato-basil truffle to me. Your post made me so happy to be working in the Jura, where there seems to be a regional specialty around every corner (like much of France, I suppose). I’m looking forward to la Percee du Vin Jaune in Poligny in February !

  • Beautiful post…makes a soul yearn for La France.

  • neat. At the Christmas market here in Munich there’s a stand that sells molded chocolates dusted with cocoa powder and they have the most unusual shapes.
    There’s the light bulbs and the nuts and bolts and wrenches. Seems like they simply took every tool and gadget they could find and made an authentic mold of it.
    These things were way more realistic than the rusty tools from Slitti.
    Have some Happy Holidays!
    Adrian

  • oops! I forgot I wanted to ask a question: Do you Christophe Michalak? A French friend told me he is the rising star on the chocolate scene and creates the most amazing flavor combinations. What do you think?

  • truly fascinating. this would make a great pictorial book!

  • Dear David, I love chocolate, France, and your writing style. Merci pour tout ce que vous faites.

  • This is amazing. It looks like they really have it down to an art. I couldn’t imagine how great that visit must have been. Thanks.

  • Those are yummy looking chocolates. I love chocolates and as in I really eat a lot of it. I don’t care about getting fat or what so ever. Anyway, amazing experience on finding those chocolates.