If you have ever been afraid of returning from your vacation to Provence about 10 pounds heavier than when you left…then be afraid, very afraid.  The fears are warranted because the country of France is sometimes overlooked as producing  some of the best candies, chocolates, pastries and essences of fruit in the world.  Each department of France seems to have its own claim on one of more specialty foods; and sweets are usually part of the conversation.  The Drome region of Provence is no exception.  The pastry shops are phenomenal.  Les Patisseries are phemomenal all over France and the Drome has its own offering of special cookies, cakes and breads.  So in the interest of getting right to the point we will have to engage in a discourse on La Patisserie Francaise some other time.  Let’s talk candy; the sweets of Provence.

La Patisserie Francaise

If you venture into the wine road country, you will have to land in the city of Montelimar.  For many travelers this can be the beginning of a good wine road vacation in Provence.  It will be even more so when the new TGV station gets built in the Montelimar suburb of Allan in 2011.  An easy and cheap Iceland Air flight to Paris puts you at the TGV station in the Charles De Gaulle airport and viola, the fast train will put you right in Montelimar.  Oh joy!  You get to visit and see all the “fabrications du nougat” in Montelimar.  If you have never heard of a man named Arnaud Soubeyran before you will know him now.

Nougat Montelimar

Arnaud Soubeyran often gets credited for inventing the famous French candy called nougat.  Nougat was actually invented by artisanal candy makers throughout the Montelimar area and perfected by housewives, homemakers and grandmas over the years.  Mr. Soubeyran would never take credit for inventing nougat, but through his legacy he goes down in history as the young engineer who started from a modest beginning to become the “Henry Ford” of nougat manufacturing.  He made nougat famous throughout the world and he made Montelimar famous for nougat.  There are many small nougat factories and outlets around downtown Montelimar, but the place to start is the Soubeyran nougat museum and factory.

Museum Soubeyran Nougat

I am normally not a fan of museum tours when I am on vacation in the U.S.  Have you ever been on vacation and in the midst of Nowhereville, South Dakota had to put up with a screaming car of kids trying to get you to stop for a tour the famous Corn Palace, the Wall Drug Store, or some other tourist trap?  Then you sneak past when the family has fallen asleep and when the awake you say “aw shucks guys, I missed the exit and we’ll have to hit it on the way home”?  Well the Soubeyran museam is certainly not like that.  On the contrary, it is quite tasteful (pardon the play on words) and really pretty cool.  Unlike American “nougat” – like the stuff in the middle of a Mars candy bar – real nougat of Provence is a delicious, tender and fragrant artisanal confection made from pure and healthy ingredients like eggs, almonds, milk and honey.  It is spectacular, and there are so many different kinds. The museum store at the end of the tour will leave your head spinning and you wallet empty.

Furthermore, there is something for everyone on this tour.  For those who like to cook, there is the discovery that this seemingly simple confection is actually very difficult to do right. 

Nougat the Old World Way

For those who like manufacturing there is the history, continuity and change where the old way of doing things meets modern day marketing and brand management. The tour includes amazing machines that young Arnaud Soubeyran invented and patented to package and distrubute the nougat at larger volumes without compromizing the quality.  You might think of him as the Willy Wonka of France.  Indeed the old ways don’t change and you can actually see a batch of nougat in production at the plant and taste the fresh final product.  But if you don’t like candy and you don’t like history and if you don’t like manufacturing and if you don’t like learning about the empire of a young French entreprenuer, then you will love the coffee shop. 

At a small oasis away from the tour and the candy grabbing kids is the cafe.  You can sit there peacefully and be served the best coffee you’ve ever had.  Then as you enjoy the aromas and, of course, fresh nougat that the hostess places on your coffee saucer, you can just chill and watch her sit next to you at a cafe table to assemble boxes of nougat – yep everybody pitches in at the plant.  If you don’t like the coffee shop, then I guess I’m out of bullets and you’ll have to walk down to the wine shop, buy a bottle of champagne, sit in the parking lot with a plastic cup and listen to “You Know I’m No Good” by Amy Winehouse on the renta-car stereo.

In closing, the sweets in France are awesome.  There are  more sweet surprises to come in future blogs; but for now Soubeyran will have to do.  In my humble opinion, he is more than enough to satisfy the most demanding sweet tooth.

Ciao for now!

For a real TechVoyageur experience visit historic Rochemaure Castle in the heart of Provence.

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