Inside the Oldest Chocolate Shop in Paris, À la Mère de Famille

À la Mère de Famille interior | © À la Mère de Famille
À la Mère de Famille interior | © À la Mère de Famille
Photo of Jade Cuttle
30 August 2018

À la Mère de Famille in Paris has a rich and delicious history that stretches back to 1761. We head behind the scenes of this ancient store to discover just what makes the legendary address so special.

Paris’ first chocolate shop opened in the 18th century

À la Mère de Famille is the oldest chocolate shop in Paris. The store first opened in 1761, when Pierre-Jean Bernard, a young grocer from Coulommiers, set up his family business at 35, rue du Faubourg Montmartre.

À la Mère de Famille shop front | © À la Mère de Famille / Alexandre Guirkinger

Bernard created the first walk-in paradise for Parisians with a sweet tooth. The products that were sold when it was first opened are very much the same as those that are still on the shelves today. From classic praline rochers to les Folies de l’Écureuil, along with florentins and a unique range of Montmartre palets biscuits, there’s always been an impressively wide and mouthwatering selection.

Les Folies de l’Écureuil | © À la Mère de Famille

The business has expanded over the years

Naturally, À la Mère de Famille has changed hands over the centuries. Young Marie-Adélaïde Bridault, the second wife of one of Pierre-Jean Bernard’s stepsons, took over the business when her husband died in 1807. She raised her four children on her own and while the store had already worked up a good reputation, she helped it develop into the cherished household name it has become today.

Delicious treats at the oldest chocolate shop in Paris | © À la Mère de Famille

The shop stayed in the family until Étienne Dolfi, originally from Alsace and previously, a confectioner and supplier to the company, took over the store in 2000.

À la Mère de Famille shop interior | © À la Mère de Famille / Alexandre Guirkinger

Étienne Dolfi’s children Sophie, Steve, Jane and Jonathan all picked up their father’s love for confectionery and expanded the business across Paris. While there used to only be one À la Mère de Famille in Paris, today, there are 11 versions.

The centuries-old traditions remain strong

Despite the expansion, little else has changed at the legendary chocolate shop in Montmartre since the 18th century. When you first arrive outside the store, you’re greeted by a traditional façade showcasing row upon row of old-style sweet jars. The calligraphic shop-front design, antique lampshades and mosaic flooring also plunge customers back into the past.

À la Mère de Famille interior |  © À la Mère de Famille

With over two and a half centuries of expertise, À la Mère de Famille’s time-tested secret recipes have a proven track record of tantalising their customers’ taste buds and the ingredients have largely stayed the same.

Caramels sachet | © À la Mère de Famille

‘We are very conservative and are committed to preserving this heritage’, Steve Dolfi tells Culture Trip. Steve is in charge of the artistic direction of À la Mère de Famille and contributes to the creation of new, delicious products with a keen eye for tradition.

Grand Coffret | © À la Mère de Famille

One of the main values that has not changed at À la Mère de Famille is the commitment to relying on their own trusted artisans, rather than ordering sweets in from elsewhere. The Négus de Nevers (a tender caramel tasting of chocolate or coffee), for example, is made from a unique family recipe, crafted to perfection by carefully selected artisans.

À la Mère de Famille interior | © À la Mère de Famille / Alexandre Guirkinger

‘We select the raw materials, transform cocoa into chocolate and dried fruits into praline’, Steve says. ‘To produce everything ourselves and to master the process from beginning to end is to guarantee the regularity, the taste and the excellence of our products. What has changed in recent years is only our mastery of chocolate’.

Keeping up with modern taste trends

As the French nation has become more health-conscious, increasingly dubious of sugary intake and keen to eat more fresh fruit, certain aspects of the recipes have changed.

Delicious praline chocolates at À la Mère de Famille | © À la Mère de Famille

For example, today, the candied chestnuts are served low in sugar. Not only is this healthier, but it also intensifies the chestnut flavour. The modernised recipe took four years to master.

À la Mère de Famille also offers delicious traditional ice cream, which is made from the finest quality fresh fruit. Some of the boxed sweets are made from real fruit, too.

À la Mère de Famille’s fruity sweets | © À la Mère de Famille

There’s also an emphasis on freshness at À la Mère de Famille, with all cakes – from candied fruit bakes to rose praline cakes and from Folies de l’Écureuil (almonds and hazelnuts that are roasted, caramelised, coated with dark chocolate and sprinkled with cocoa powder) to lemon cakes – baked on-site daily.

While preserving tradition, the shop is constantly inventing new trends. One of their most popular cakes, today, is a chocolate gâteau with layers of soft biscuit, dark chocolate ganache and crunchy chocolate leaves.

À la Mère de Famille is also famous for its macarons

Of course, chocolate has always been the shop’s main focus, but macarons have become one of À la Mère de Famille’s specialities, too.

Dried fruit and fruity ganache are added to the shop’s macarons to craft a unique combination. Some of their most popular flavours include pistachio nut, hazelnut, pine nut, coffee, vanilla and caramel.

Whether you plan to buy a box of colourful macarons, try a selection of fruit jellies or taste the shop’s best-selling chocolates, À la Mère de Famille’s products all come delightfully gift-boxed. They promise an unforgettable gift, whatever you choose.

Box of chocolates | © À la Mère de Famille

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