There has always been one of the distinctive square bottles of Cointreau in the drinks cabinet at home, slightly sticky around the neck, and used not only as a liqueur but in the kitchen in my mother’s delicious creations.
In particular, the chocolate mousse she often made for Sunday lunch, intense, dark and spiked with the glorious orange tang of Cointreau, and taken from Arabella Boxer’s cult 60s book First Slice Your Cookbook.
I loved it so much that I included an updated version (above) in my own cookbook, Friends, Food & Family.
(Because, of course, a bottle of Cointreau always resides in the 1950s cocktail cabinet in my kitchen.)
My grandmother, glamorous, (that’s her, below) eccentric and marching entirely to the beat of her own drum, would always drink Cointreau with her slice of Christmas cake, and it seemed like the most sophisticated thing in the world to me as a little girl. It also smelt heavenly.
I always think of my grandmother when I see the beautiful Cointreau ads from the fifties.
So being invited to visit the Cointreau HQ and factory in Angers, in the Loire Valley a few weeks back felt like kismet. It’s about an hour or so south west from Paris by TGV, an easy day trip, just outside the town of Angers.
The first thing that hits one on the distillery floor is the warm, sweet smell of oranges hanging in the air. It’s as though one has been magically transported from the freezing winter to the South of France in July.
Cointreau have been on this site in Saint Barthélemy d’Anjou since 1972, and the first distillery was founded up the road in Angers in 1849 – it’s now and always has been the only production site of Cointreau in the world. (They produce over 13 million bottles a year.)
Cointreau was the brainchild of the two eponymous brothers, Édouard-Jean Cointreau and Adolphe Cointreau, who founded the first factory in Angers to produce fruit-flavoured liqueurs. In 1875 Édouard-Jean’s son developed the precise balance of macerated orange peel from sweet and bitter oranges, which would become the base of the Cointreau liqueur.
It caught the public imagination almost immediately, marketed as both chic and beneficial for health. By the beginning of the 20th Century, over 800,000 bottles of Cointreau were being produced annually and distributed far beyond France.
After exploring the distillery, with its distinctive copper stills, we went up to the gallery which houses a visual history of Cointreau, with all manner of fascinating posters and documents from the brand archives, and thence to a tasting room to hear Cointreau’s Master Distiller Bernadette Langlais talk us through its composition. She led us through a blind tasting of four orange liqueurs – we all spotted the Cointreau. It’s delicious, natural orange essence shines through against its more chemically competitors.
We spent quite some time in the advertising gallery looking at the iconic Cointreau ads: it’s worth visiting just for this. Seen together they provide a fascinating insight into how alcohol has been marketed from the 19th century to now. With the announcement during Couture in Paris of the appointment of Laetitia Casta as the new Global Artistic Director of Cointreau, it’ll be fascinating to see what they do next.
Carré Cointreau: 2 Boulevard des Bretonnières, 49124 Saint-Barthélemy-d’Anjou, France.
You’ll need to book ahead for guided tours of the distillery. (It’s closed on Mondays.)
Huge thanks to Cointreau for hosting me on this trip.