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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
‘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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
À la Mère de Famille, 35, rue du Faubourg Montmartre, Paris, France, +33 1 47 70 83 69