Introducing Lou Cocal: A Delicious Partnership for Sarlat Rugby

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Not all of our sponsors are traditional investors, but all have amazing stories to tell. We took some time last week to sit down with Lou Cocal’s president, Olivier Charpenet, to discover this one-of-a-kind partner. From humble origins, his “Biscuiterie” has evolved to become an artisanal specialist using and producing the very best the Perigord has to offer. Just ask the kids of Sarlat’s Rugby School.

Nestled in the heart of the Perigord Noir, Sarlat is known for its sweet and savory delights. Simply stepping through the doors of Lou Cocal’s shopfront will tell all your senses why. The bright store overflows with elegantly packed cookies and biscuits of every variety. The smell of freshly baked sweets wafts through the air along with the sound of laughter from the locals sipping coffee or tea in the little cafe. 

The cafe is where we met Olivier Charpenet, Lou Cocal’s founder and owner, who welcomed us with a firm handshake and a big smile for Dato Okriashvili. Sarlat Rugby’s prop and local sponsorship coordinator had helped bring together this unique partnership that puts the very best of what Sarlat has to offer in the spotlight. 

But who is Olivier, and what is the dream behind the delights of Lou Cocal?

Lou Cocal bisuits on show

Lou Cocal: A Humble Dream Come True

Like a local Willie Wonka, no sooner had we sat down at Olivier’s desk than he was already handing out a few delicious treats. The taste of blueberry and walnut nougat sparked our conversation and we quickly delved into the history of Lou Cocal. My very first question proved I was no local, or I would have known that Lou Cocal means simply ‘the Walnut’ in the local dialect of Occitan.

Born and raised in Sarlat, Olivier Charpenet wasn’t able to tell me when his ancestors first moved to the area, because he doesn’t know. His family is deeply rooted in the land and the region. A farmer like his parents before him, Olivier struggled to make ends meet in agriculture.

Yet he had a passion for food and cooking for others—particularly baking. His recipes, many of which were passed down from generation to generation dating back to the time of Napoleon, were just a hobby at first. But what started as something to share with kids and friends soon blossomed into so much more.

On a whim, an acquaintance who was traveling to Paris for a business conference offered to pay Olivier for several batches of his best cookies and confections to help draw in customers. He agreed, thinking little of it, but they were a smash hit! A business dream was born, to make a living bringing to life the traditional recipes of the regions.

Lou Cocal Sarlat Showroom

Putting the Products of the Perigord in the Spotlight

At first, Olivier’s products were sold in small batches to local stores and companies in a narrow radius around Sarlat. But Olivier is a man who likes to experiment, try new recipes, and play with new ingredients. While clients loved his baked goods, they soon began asking for their own varieties, to put their products in the spotlight, or fit the occasion they needed. 

And so Lou Cocal was born, and grew, adding ever more recipes and workers. Now Olivier heads a team of 25, and his products are sold as far away as Ireland and even Japan. Though the vast majority of his sales are still in the Perigord and Dordogne, as his products showcase the best of what the region has to offer.

Unlike many industrial-scale biscuit factories, Olivier’s small-scale factory and artisanal approach stand out for using only the finest, and most local, ingredients. Over 70% of all their ingredients come straight from the Perigord, including all the baking essentials: eggs, wheat, honey, and, of course, Sarlat’s specialty: Walnuts. The rest all come from no further than France.

Focusing on local ingredients is a priority for Lou Cocal, not just for quality and integrity with the traditional approach to each recipe, but also for the environmental carbon impact of the process. For Olivier, any company in the area should be a force for good in the community, putting forward its best attributes and bringing economic and human wealth to the region.

Another key value he shares with the Sarlat Rugby team.

A Passion for Innovation, Taste, and Sarlat 

Olivier Chapenet made clear that he doesn’t want to turn Lou Cocal into an industry. On the contrary, its strength lies in its flexible artisanal approach and its commitment to putting quality and variety at the heart of its business. Besides, part of what brought Olivier to the job, and a large part of his ongoing passion for the craft, is the fun and artistry of constantly innovating and trying new recipes. 

Another key value Olivier stressed is transparency. He wants his clients and customers to be able to trust and follow Lou Cocal’s work, supply chains, and products. A value he takes so seriously that the entire back wall of the shop is a transparent window into the baking area beyond.

He was also clear about the difficulties Lou Cocal has had to overcome. The focus on flexibility and adaptability comes at the price of higher costs in research and stocks. In addition, Sarlat and the Perigord run on a seasonal clock, and Lou Cocal is no exception. In the summer, tourism drives demand way up for products like their flagship Croquants aux Noix (light and sweet walnut brittle). Then they roll right into the holiday season, which sees demand shift to traditional delights like almond Financiers, followed by a ‘slow’ season for the rest of winter and spring.

Nevertheless, Olivier is determined to keep Lou Cocal as solidly anchored to Sarlat as he is. And it is more than just a question of ancestry. You can hear a deep-seated love of the region in Olivier’s voice when he speaks. He wants his company to showcase the best of what Sarlat has to offer to the rest of the country or even the world. He confessed that was one of the things that drew him to the rugby club, for its ambitious project also seeks to put Sarlat on the map.

Lou Cocal and Sarlat Rugby Forge an Atypical Partnership

Unlike many locals, Olivier did not play rugby growing up. Nevertheless, Lou Cocal is only a few minutes from the Christian Goumondie Stadium, and he knows how important rugby is for the community. He also knows what is important to all rugby players near or far: something tasty to eat! He even has a special line of oval-shaped biscottis for the FFR of the Lot department.

When he was approached by Dato Okriashvili, Sarlat Rugby’s prop and local partnership coordinator, he told us he was impressed by the project’s potential to help breathe life into the region but wasn’t sure he could help. But props are tenacious, and Dato is bright; he suggested a partnership where, rather than becoming a traditional sponsor, he could help feed the ever ravenous kids of the rugby school.

And so the two struck up a deal for special orders on rugby school events and retreats from Lou Cocal for Sarlat Rugby. After all, the rugby team also wants to showcase local talent and innovation, support businesses, and keep Sarlat at the heart of the project. The kids of the rugby school certainly had no complaints! They will be enjoying some delicious Lou Cocal treats during their upcoming weekend camp in addition to all the special activities and events. 

Olivier did not specifically mention generosity among the core values of his business. Nevertheless, it was clear he lives and breathes it, giving us our own goodie bags full of delights to taste and enjoy. Before we left though, we did have a little challenge for him: to match some key moments of rugby life with the perfect Lou Cocal accompaniment.

We started easy, and the questions got trickier as we went. But he always had just the right goodie to suggest: 

The “third half” is at the heart of rugby life. What accompaniment from Lou Cocal would make that celebration even better?

(Without hesitation) “Financier, the more the merrier.”

Sarlat’s rugby team has a number of young fathers. What would be the best treat for their kids or the younglings of the Rugby School?
He laughed and said, “Too easy, Chocolate and Walnut Cookies, though they’ll love anything with chocolate.”

Sarlat Rugby is on track for the playoffs this season. What should the players eat before the games?

He had to think about this one. “Nanoux, a particularly calorie-dense treat”

If heavens forbid, the team should lose the final, what consolation prize would you offer?

He refused to consider the possibility, though he did jokingly suggest threatening them with Vegan Garlic Biscuits he once had to make for a client. 

If the team wins the finals and Sarlat Rugby is crowned Federale 2 Champions de France, what is the perfect Lou Cocal treat to celebrate with?

This one also merited thought, but Olivier settled on the delicious-sounding “Walnut and Black Cherry Cake.”

I for one, cannot wait to try that cake!

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