Calisson d’Aix – Provencal delicacies06-07-2017
An icon of Provencal gastronomic culture, ‘Calissons’ have delighted locals from the town of Aix and its surrounding areas since their tender youth.
Provence is a region where appreciating good food is second nature, particularly when it goes hand in hand with a sweet tooth. So you may be familiar with the famed thirteen Provencal desserts, and among them, the highly-prized Calissons d’Aix. Often imitated, but never equalled, Calissons are king when it comes to Provencal sweet delicacies.
But what is the fuss all about? Lovingly made from citrus fruit almond paste consisting of melon, orange and lemon, topped with a layer of pristine white icing sugar, Calissons have been tantalising taste buds for several hundreds of years
“What is really special about calissons is the crunchy bite of the royal icing upper and lower layer, which comes in stark contrast to the wonderfully soft interior,” describes Laure Pierrisnard, President of the Union of Calisson producers in Aix, the UCFA*.
She also happens to be the CEO of Roy René, the region’s most famous calissonier, or calisson producer, and for whom this jarring juxtaposition of brittle crunch and sweet softness is the calling card of an authentic Calisson d’Aix.
Ancestral savoir-faire handed down through the generations
The art of making Calissons has retained its artisan charm and can be broken down into two distinct stages: first preparing the soft fruit paste and secondly, the decoration. Firstly, almonds are blanched and then crushed, together with the candied melon, before adding fruit syrup, in an all-important 40% almond paste and 60% fruit syrup ratio. According to a former Calisson d’Aix ‘Master’ or expert, the Calisson owes its original character and sweet softness to the melons and oranges used to make the paste, which are soaked in fruit syrup; while the outer layer consists of gossamer-thin sugar paper coated in royal icing. “Here we are at the heart of regional Provencal specialities. Calissons come with their own appellation which brings depth and meaning to the ingredients. Quality and traceability are guaranteed, with a clear set of guidelines to regulate the manufacturing process to reassure consumers”, explains Laure Pierrisnard.
PGI status in sight
To guarantee product quality and respect traditional production methods, the Producers Union is keen to establish a PGI for their product. “We have a traditional recipe with the same procedures and techniques handed down over many years. The technical aspect is important at certain stages in the process, but at the end of the day, human intervention and skilled expertise are vital. Our product is not the result of a commonplace manufacturing process, and this is why we wish to protect it with a PGI”, reiterates Laure Pierrisnard.
And to this end, the Union’s ‘calisonniers’ have decided to promote and showcase their specialised savoir-faire by building a dedicated working museum. Tourists can now visit the museum and take full advantage of the interactive visitor experience and see the fabrication process in full swing at René Roy’s production site.
Celebrating Calissons d’Aix with local festivities
Calisson aficionados simply cannot miss the special events in Aix devoted to showcasing these Provencal delicacies. Held annually the first weekend in September, the tradition dates back to 1630 and celebrates the vow made by a legal advisor to distribute calissons to thank the patron saint of Aix for putting an end to the most devastating plague the town has ever known. And to this day, calissons are blessed in a local church in Aix, and then handed out.
“The event is quite a ceremony, and for more than 20 years has become a celebration of almonds and calissons d’Aix. It’s a great opportunity to showcase the full extent of our savoir-faire” explains the Union’s President.
All day long, local residents and tourists can sample calissons at Cours Mirabeau in the centre of Aix. It is the perfect showcase for the region’s sweet delicacies.
Provence sweet delicacies in the international spotlight
This traditional celebration, together with a new museum to perpetuate the product’s rich history, illustrate a real determination to develop awareness for Calissons d’Aix and to promote the delicacy to tourists visiting the region. In addition, Roy René see it as their mission to target international markets, a challenge showing early signs of success. Having already shown a strong presence at Bastille Day in New-York, an annual event on 14th July that showcases the great and good of French gastronomy, Aix sweet delicacies are setting their sights on Asia in 2018 at the Gourmet Hong Kong festival, where Provence will be honoured as the guest region.