If there is one known gourmet specialty of the town of Aix, it would have to be the Calisson – an almond or diamond shaped confection made from sweet almond paste and preserved fruits, crystallized Cavaillon melon, essence of orange, rice paper, and icing.
The recipe itself is a closely guarded secret, and each house makes their own Calisson a little differently. A little less sweet here, or a little more twist of the citrus there. But one thing is for sure, as in a lot of things French, adherence to culinary tradition is tantamount.
All Calisson look alike, and use the same main ingredients. The Calisson has three layers – The bottom is made from a communion wafer, or if you don’t want to be religious, rice paper. The middle layer is the almond paste/melon confection. The third, or top, layer is the crisp icing made from egg whites and sugar.
Another tradition to the Calisson is that it is made with only local ingredients. The region of Provence was one of the major almond producers in the world until the twentieth century and the melons from Cavaillon are famous in the area.
Traditionally the Calisson was used as a communion wafer in the church of Notre Dame de la Seds on Easter, Christmas, and September 1.
- At Christmas time it can be included as one of the 13 Desserts that are used to celebrate the winter holiday in Aix.
- On September 1 it is used to commemorate the plague of 1630 as the blessing of the Calissons is held every year in the church of Saint-Jean-de-Malte.
There are many versions to the creation story of the Calisson, but most attribute it to King Rene’s wedding feast, when he married his second wife, Jeanne de Laval, in 1473. Others attribute it to much later in the 1600s with the introduction of the first almond tree into Provence.
These confections sit on plates and platters in almost every patisserie in Aix. The first Calisson factories were opened in the 19th century and today there are about 20 manufacturers. So finding them once you are there will not be a problem.
Musee Confiserie du Roy René
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Calissons can be bought from a number of shops in Aix. They can also be bought directly from the makers: they are priced the same as in the shops, but this way you can watch the manufacturing process and enjoy them the day they are made.
Fruidoraix: 2 rue de Jérusalem, Aix
Chocolaterie de Puyricard: 420 Route du Puy Ste Réparade, Aix
Confiserie Brémond: 16 rue d’Italie, Aix
d’Entrecasteaux: 2 rue d’Entrecasteaux, Aix
Maison Béchard: 12 Cours Mirabeau, Aix
Parli Léonard: 35 avenue Victor Hugo, Aix
Le Cygne d’Or: 25 rue Bédarrides, Aix
Les Calissons du Roy René: 7 rue Papassaudi, Aix
Confiserie Genis: 1 rue Gaston de Saporta, Aix
Confiserie Nouvelle: La Petite Calade, RN7 Puyricard, Aix