Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bayonne III

25 August

Our final morning in Bayonne.  We'll take a moment to appreciate the Adour in the early morning light:


We got so spoiled with that view.  What a perfect start to the day!

We had tickets for a train to Carcassonne later in the day, but first we had a few errands to run around town.  We had been in town three days now and had yet to purchase any chocolate or any ham - a serious oversight requiring an immediate correction.  I've mentioned the significance of chocolate in Bayonne a few times now, but I haven't really explained it.  Bayonne was actually the first city in France to start producing chocolate, way back in the 16th century when Jewish immigrants settled there and set up shop after being expelled from Portugal - but not before learning about the newly-imported New World cacao bean.  Bayonne maintains its reputation as a center of excellent chocolate to this day.

Our first stop was Rue du Port Neuf - literally, it translates as Street of the New Door, but in practice it translates as Chocolate Street.  This pedestrian-only street is home to both Daranatz and Cazenave, the two most famous chocolate shops in Bayonne.  Cazenave is particularly noted for its hot chocolate - so of course we had to stop in and sample some.  I ordered the chocolat mousseux:

The real breakfast of champions
Mousseux translates as "frothy," and that's exactly how this chocolate is.  It's whipped by hand, and the froth piles way above the edge of the cup.  The froth is light and airy, but with some real chocolate oomph to back it up.  But the real star of the show here was the liquid gold beneath the froth - the molten chocolate goodness itself, deep and a little bitter and, as I wrote in my notes, "complete." The hot chocolate I had had a few days before was missing something, but this was more full and more complex and just wonderful.  And just in case it wasn't decadent enough, it was served with super thick whipped cream and oversize sugar cubes.  What a perfect start to the day!

After drinking more chocolate than was probably strictly necessary (though, for that matter, how does one define the amount of chocolate that is "strictly necessary?"), we headed next door to Daranatz to pick up some chocolate bars to take with us.  Even just the lèche-vitrines (literally, window-licking - the French colloquialism for window shopping) was a treat here with all of the colorful, beautiful displays:

I'll take one of everything, please.
We picked up a couple of bars chocolat au piment:


Most of the time when I write about the things I ate on this trip, I am relying on the notes I took and my memory.  But not this time.  I have a square of chocolat au piment, a 65% dark chocolate bar with ground piment d'espelette, in my mouth right now.  The chocolate melts slowly, luxuriously on my tongue, and as it does I notice the faint graininess of the ground piment.  The flavor is deep, bold, with hints of coffee and a pleasant warmth, and as I swallow the heat of the pepper hits the back of my throat and stings just a little. Suffice to say, this is pretty glorious stuff.

And speaking of piment d'espelette, I couldn't leave Basque country without picking up a jar of ground piment so that I can make my own cod omelettes, now could I?  We stopped by les Halles to get a jar, as well as a baguette and some fruit.  What a perfect start to the day!

Our last stop was to pick up some of the famous jambon de Bayonne - Bayonne ham.  These hams are made from special pigs on special diets and must be cured with special local salt, aged for seven months or longer. During the aging process, the hams are rubbed with, what else, more piment d'espelette giving the outside an orange-red tint and an extra tang to the flavor.


We ate our ham and bread and produce on the train.  The ham was quite salty, and though I could see the orange piment powder on the edge, I'm not sure I could taste it.  It made an excellent sandwich with baguette and tomato.  Lunch was definitely the best part of the train ride.

Coming soon: Feelin hot hot hot in Carcassonne... literally.

A bientôt,

1 comment:

I need orange said...

Mmmmm. Maybe I'll wander downstairs and have some of that chocolate myownself. After reading your description, how could I not.....

:-)