Sandrine Chappaz Chocolate

A couple of weeks ago, I took a trip to the Savoie, a region of France that was once a dukedom of Italy. As you travel through France, especially away from the center of the country, you see more influences from neighboring countries, such as in the Basque region, where cornmeal and chile peppers figure into the cuisine. In Nice, pistou and socca from Italy are laced in soups, and are local snacks, respectively. And in the Savoie (Savoy), there’s vermouth, polenta, and cheese-filled ravioli, known as ravioles du Royans.

But the most legendary product from the region is Chartreuse, the powerful, complex green liqueur that’s been made by monks in the mountains for over four hundred years. No one knows quite what’s in it, but I needed to make a pilgrimage back to the distillery, which I had first visited over twenty years ago.

You can’t visit the actual distillery anymore, but you check out the aging cellars, the tasting room, and – of course – the all-important gift shop.

One thing about France, when you travel around, you found out how nice people are. We went to a cheese shop and when we asked for local restaurant suggestions, the two women not only wrote down several places for us to try, they offered to accompany us, too.

At the gift shop adjacent to the spectacular Grand Chartreuse monastery, while stocking up on more liqueur, I noticed a box of chocolates that aroused my curiosity: Essendoles à la Chartreuse Verte. I was familiar with the liqueur-filled chocolates made by another local chocolatier, but these were different, the clerk told us, made by Sandrine Chappaz.

It was late in the day as we’d be touring and drinking, and I was starting to wane. The day started with a Chartreuse tasting, which is pretty strong stuff (you definitely don’t spit it out when you taste Chartreuse), but when the woman at the register offered to call the chocolatier and arrange for a visit, I didn’t want to say no. I rallied to the cause, for French chocolate.

So we drove out to her house, or I should say, her laboratoire, which Sandrine built next to her home, and her lush garden, where she culls the herbs she uses in her chocolates and confections.

The pâtes de fruits “Special Fromages” were some of the most inventive and interesting I’ve ever had. They’re so special that she makes them for The Ritz hotel in Paris, in apostrophe-like shapes. They were the first thing we tasted, each made with most local herbs one could imagine: She pointed to the bushes just outside the window, to prove her point.

The fruit-and-herb jellies are meant to go with cheese. (Which we had a whole bag of, after spending thirty minutes in a cheese shop the day before.) One was flavored with apples and savory, another with red peppers and pimente d’Espelette, which would be nice with a smoked cheese or a firm sheeps’ milk Basque cheese. Pear-lavender is recommended to pair with blue cheese by Chef Chappaz, and peach and walnut, using the famed local walnuts from Grenoble, are meant to go with Gruyère, Beaufort, or Comté.

Of course, there are green Chartreuse jellies as well, which would be perfect after dinner or alongside a cup of hot chocolate. And marshmallows, if you’re the kind of person that likes to float one in a cup of chocolat chaud. Like I am.

When I saw all the marshmallows in her shop, we both got a little glassy-eyed, and Sandrine and I may have said in unison, “J’adore les guimauves!”  agreeing that marshmallows rule the candy world.

Even more fun was the marshmallow teddy bears, a wink at Oursons guimauve, beloved by the French, and sold in supermarkets. They’re meant for kids, but…well, I can’t resist them either. If I lived closer to Sandrine’s workshop (which is open to the public), I’d be a regular customer. Perhaps it’s better I don’t, because a couple of days after we got home, Romain asked me what happened to all the chocolate-covered marshmallow bears, and, as in the words of George Washington, I cannot tell a lie…

At our stop at the local fromagerie, I wanted to pick up some of the famous cheeses that are made in the alps. Unlike elsewhere, and in spite of globalization, there’s still a sense of regionality in France, and some things just aren’t shipped to Paris, or elsewhere; they remain in the region. You have to go there to experience them.

One was a cheese with Chartreuse*. It’s made by La Ferme de Platimay. (The label is on my Instagram page.) I didn’t know that Sandrine Chappaz made the thin disk of Chartreuse inside, a wafer-thin jelly that gets inserted into the cheese while it’s being made.

I like cheese, and I like Chartreuse, and although I appreciated the effort, the combination may be best left on a plate (the cheese), with a glass of Chartreuse on the side. But before I knew she’d made the thin layer of jelly inside, she asked what I thought of it.

In the “Open mouth, insert foot” category, I said that it tasted a little funny to me. She tilted her head curiously, then said, “Oh, I make those.” I was a little red in the face, but on the other hand, as I always say, don’t ask a question that you don’t want to know the answer to.

But she had just made the jelly for the inside and didn’t make the whole she-bang so let’s blame the cows. That Chartreuse jelly, however, went to good use in the Essendoles à la Chartreuse Verte.

I had to look up what an essendole is, and it stumped my French dictionary – and my French partner. I did a quick search online and the only thing that turned up were gites (inns), but I do know one thing…

…these chocolate rectangles were incredible. Each shingle was filled with a layer of powerful green Chartreuse jelly enrobed in bittersweet chocolate. Wow, those were amazing and I was glad I picked up a box, but it got finished a little too quickly, and I need more. (Although Romain managed to get back at me and ended up finishing them.)

Sandrine Chappaz
403 Chemin de la Seyta
Saint-Laurent du Pont, France
Tél: 06 74 88 35 77

I realized I got through this post and didn’t talk much about the chocolates. (I was obsessed with those Chartreuse tiles and marshmallows.) I tasted a few chocolates in her workshop, as she was working on them, but bought a box to bring home, where they were greatly enjoyed. The most interesting flavors were green Chartreuse, salted butter caramel, fennel ganache, chestnut honey, sesame praline, and one filled with hazelnut praline, although they were all terrific.

Sandrine Chappaz chocolates are sold at her boutique and online, although she ships throughout France. (Tip: If coming to France, you can place an order and arrange to have it shipped to the address where you are staying.)

*Although I can’t confirm it, my friend Ann Mah told me she got one at Fromagerie Griffon in Paris, so they may have it, if you’re not a locavore : )

A French chocolatier, putting the best of France in each bite!

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  • Kathleen
    October 23, 2018 8:33pm

    Absolutely, blame the cows.

    I love your travel posts, and you certainly gave me reason to the Savoie.

    • Kathleen
      October 23, 2018 8:34pm

      … visit the Savioe, I meant to say. Now, whom to blame?

  • Alex S
    October 23, 2018 8:36pm

    Wow, that’s all I can say. :)

  • October 23, 2018 8:51pm

    I strongly agree about how friendly the French are, even in Paris. We have more than once asked a passerby for directions and they end up taking us there! Try that in New York. (I did once accompany a couple from France out of the subway and up Canal Street to Chinatown.)

    • witloof
      October 24, 2018 5:58pm

      If you understand the basic rules of French politesse you will most likely not have any issues with rudeness. The only problem I have is although I speak perfectly decent French the moment a waiter in a cafe gets a whiff of an accent the conversation immediately switches to English, something that irritates me enormously. Although my Vietnamese/Finnish/American friend, who speaks beautiful perfect Parisian French, says that when he’s there people answer him in English, so I don’t feel quite so singled out.

  • EB
    October 23, 2018 8:58pm

    Thank you so much for your exceptional travel posts. You are blessed with two rich gifts, cooking and writing! I don’t know where else to find such insightful, entertaining writing about French matters regarding cuisine, agriculture, locavorism, etc. Merci bien!

  • Rachel
    October 23, 2018 8:59pm

    Lovely post! Do you have any recipes for making pâtes de fruits? I have tried and failed thus far to find a good recipe for something like this.

    • October 23, 2018 9:13pm
      David Lebovitz

      The ones I made in cooking school were a little complicated, requiring a refractometer, so I’ve never come up with a recipe myself. (Like baguettes, they are usually something that’s easier to buy in France, than make your own.) People have told me the one in The French Laundry Book made with apple pectin works well.

      • Rachel Royce
        October 24, 2018 8:41pm

        Thanks for the hint. I will track down the French Laundry recipe. I like the challenge of complicated recipes. I have an herb garden and lots of fruit trees. Might you be able to share a recipe? Amazon has a large selection of refractometers………

        • October 24, 2018 9:19pm
          David Lebovitz

          Here’s a Pâtes de fruits recipe that uses a standard thermometer. My recipe is in French and makes a pastry shop-sized quantity (and I don’t know where my recipe book from school is, since it was a long time ago), but if you give that one a try, let us know how they turn out!

    • Donna Carpentier
      October 23, 2018 9:20pm

      Rachel, same!!! I’m dying to have a reliable recipe! And David, once again you manage to bring tears (of joy) to my eyes with your descriptive and vivid writing. I think I’ll have to place an order and ship it to my friends’ house and have them, then, ship it to me here in the Chartreuse barrens of the South Atlantic states.

  • October 23, 2018 9:50pm

    Hi David,
    Okay, you did it; my mouth is watering and I want to taste the marshmallows and chocolates, now. Your photos are so exquisite. It is clear that Ms. Chappaz is a master. I also found it interesting to learn that Savoie was once a dukedom on Italy. Thanks for this fascinating post.

  • Kay
    October 23, 2018 10:10pm

    Thank you for posting about chartreuse! I had wanted to taste it since reading The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth (located just down the mountain from the monastery) about 20 years ago. A few nights back we had dinner at Island Creek Oyster Bar in Lexington, MA. After dinner I saw green Chartreuse on the dessert menu. The pour was too much for us; I told our waiter that we just wanted to taste it and declined to order. A few minutes later he arrived bearing two tiny glasses of Chartreuse! Our reaction to it was apparently so gratifying that he then brought us two more small glasses, this time of St. Germaine. We were not charged for either liqueur and gave him a large tip. The fragrance of the Chartreuse was astounding and the flavor austere. I loved it.

  • Tricia
    October 23, 2018 11:05pm

    Must be 40 years since my ex and I visited The monks in Voiron, after a long degustation starting at 10am we found a field and slept it off until 3 in the afternoon. Woke up infused with herbs and flowers. Loved it ever since !

    • Linda Briganti
      October 23, 2018 11:19pm

      Sounds like a perfect day to me!

  • October 24, 2018 12:18am

    huge fan. wonderful post, this. but, david, chartreuse is in the dauphiné region (isere dept), not savoie! wha? one of the three greatest books in my library is auberge of the flowering hearth by the magnificent and woefully undersung roy andries de groot. he taught us all about chartreuse.
    i link to you at my website,

  • mumimor
    October 24, 2018 12:23am

    Pâtes de fruits are a real pain to make, but I always helped my grandmother make them and I’ve done it a couple of times after she died. No one really enjoyed them, to be honest: they are sweet and old-fashioned in my family’s opinion. Reading this is really inspiring, enhancing the flavors and pairing them with cheese, membrillo style, seems like a genius idea. Maybe I’ll make a tiny batch for Christmas, since I have a lot of pectin-rich apples.

  • Dee Dee
    October 24, 2018 1:25am

    A post above recognized that you are gifted in cooking and writing. Please let me add photography! Your photos are superb—the (toasted marshmallow?) icing on your cake.
    Speaking of marshmallows, the next time you’re in No. Calif., be sure to head to Penny’s Ice Cream, in Santa Cruz, where you can order your cone or cup topped with toasted marshmallows.

  • October 24, 2018 3:19am

    Have you ever tried the Elixir Végétal de la Grande Chartreuse? It’s an even more concentrated form, and could be of interest to a dessert maker such as yourself.

  • October 24, 2018 2:07pm
    David Lebovitz

    Fazal: Yes, it’s wonderful stuff, but it’s imported into the U.S. (I think) because of the high alcohol content. Fun fact about Chartreuse elixir: It was once sold as a toothpaste in France!

    steven: Apologies for the oversight – fixed! I featured Roy Andres de Groot’s marvelous book in this post about Savoy Cake, and reread it while on this trip.

    Dee Dee: Thanks & glad you like the photos! : ) And the toasted marshmallows on top of ice cream sounds amazing!

    mumimor: They are a challenge for home cooks, and the only people I know who make them are pastry chefs or confiseurs. I have seen recipes in books like Candy is Magic aimed at home cooks, for gumdrops that only use natural ingredients.

  • October 24, 2018 8:42pm

    Maybe its the chocolates…maybe its your photos? Or maybe its both. But I can’t remember seeing such beautiful chocolates. Theit texture and colors just floors me.

  • Marie
    October 25, 2018 12:14am

    I’m envious that you can speak with these artisans about their products! Thank you for the recommendation of The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth. I got it through an inter-library loan & just finished the text. Recipes next but the ingredients & techniques are out of my reach. I hope you enjoyed some delicious meals on your visit to the region.

    • October 25, 2018 12:17am
      David Lebovitz

      What’s interesting about the book is that he tested the recipes in New York, using ingredients he got there. Still, it’s not likely many of us are going to debone a duck, keeping the entire skin intact, and making a pâté with the meat, and a few more ingredients. The recipes are interesting to read though, even if many are probably best left to one’s imagination of how they would be ;)

    October 25, 2018 4:30am

    I could have sworn that St. Laurent du Pont was in Dauphiné, not Savoie which is, I thought, further to the east. Whatever the case, chartreuse is a great favorite and I love that it is now being used so creatively.

    • October 25, 2018 5:17am
      David Lebovitz

      We were in Chambéry, which is in the Savoie. We drove to various places from there. I don’t see where I said that St. Laurent du Pont was in the Savoie, but if you let me know where it appears, I can correct it.

        October 25, 2018 6:46pm

        I see what happened. Your post was about Savoie and then I read the address for Sandrine which is 403 Chemin de la Seyta
        Saint-Laurent du Pont, France so I got confused about where you were. Never mind!

        I love that area, both Dauphiné and Savoie.

  • Rona Y
    October 25, 2018 6:01am

    Essandole is an alternative spring, I think.

    • Rona Y
      October 25, 2018 6:02am

      Spelling, not spring!

  • Trevor
    October 26, 2018 3:55pm

    Health & Safety hint; don’t ever tell a Savoyard that Savoie “was once a dukedom of Italy”. Back in the day the counts and dukes of Savoie ruled over the Piedmont, the northern bit of what is now Italy (since 1860), and they get a bit touchy about that.