Confiserie Florian Readies Sweet Clementines, Bonbons and Recipes for the Confectioners Truce
Earlier this month France staged the Journée des Petits Plaisirs, an annual celebration for the sweet-toothed, while over Christmas it fetes La Trêve des Confiseurs, the traditional offering of bonbons that dates from the Trêve de Dieu (Truce of God), imposed on France in 1245 by St. Louis.
In a country with more than 600 types of regional confectionery, the term ‘sweet-shop’ would hardly be the appropriate description for a French Confiserie, better seen as a pleasure palace and French artform, offering refined taste experiences and much more than just a quick, vulgar sugar burst.
In France and notably the hinterland around Nice – close by the perfumed highlands of Grasse — a visit to Confiserie Florian is, in essence, a magic moment when flower and fruit fragrances made famous by the Grasse perfume industry, are carried through to the bonbons and candied delights that make up much of the fruity, perfumed offerings found here.
Our food correspondent Mike Alexander recently visited Confiserie Florian, which ranks among France’s top confectioners, and reports on the sensual taste experience three generations of the same family have developed there.
If you happen to have a sweet tooth and are planning on visiting the south of France then here is one tour you should definitely add to your itinerary, writes Mike.
Confiserie Florian is a veritable Aladdin’s cave of sugary delights that come with a long Mediterranean history. It is owned and managed by the Fuchs family and has been in their hands for three generations. The family has long been synonymous with perfumes, fragrances and taste sensations in the Grasse region.
It was Eugene Fuchs who established the famous perfumery Fragonard in 1926. In 1935 he purchased a former flour mill at Tourrettes-sur-Loup which lies twelve kilometers from Grasse as the crow flies, though that distance nearly doubles when travelling the winding roads of the region.
At the time that he purchased the building it was being used as a distillery for the abundant orange blossom grown in the area and tour groups were already visiting to sample the wonderful aromas and try their hand at making soaps. Orange blossom was an important ingredient in the perfume industry and an integral part of many of Fragonard’s early fragrances.
The small town of Tourrettes-sur-Loup is considered the violet capital of France (though Toulouse might dispute that claim!). It was traversed by a viaduct which carried the train from Nice to Draguignan, a popular day trip with the English aristocracy, including Queen Victoria. They favoured the climate in Nice during the cooler months but in 1944 this bridge was destroyed by the Nazis taking much of the moulin, which lay at its feet, with it.
George Fuchs oversaw the rebuilding and at that time began the conversion from distillery to confiserie.
The enterprise gradually diversified into crystallizing fruits and flowers including the abundant violets. Each year they process more than 1.7 tonnes of roses along with violets, verbena and their trade mark product, crystallized clementine.
That redundant mid-18th century flour mill is now home to three workshops all beneath one roof. The first produces candied orange and lemon rind dipped in chocolate, a second the candied clementines and flowers along with jams and a third an array of boiled sweets. Since 1996 one branch of the Fuchs family has controlled Fragonard and another Florian.
In addition to all the mouthwatering produce, the establishment is highly visual with its bright fruit and large copper cauldrons and the site has attracted tour groups almost since it first began.
In the museum one can see photos (see the image gallery below) of some of the earliest open -top tour cars, while by way of contrast air conditioned coaches now ferry today’s tourists from nearby Grasse and Nice. Its long list of visitors includes Princess Charlene of Monaco.
So successful has this recipe been that in 1974 Florian acquired the Fornier chocolate factory in vieux Nice overlooking the port and nestled below the Chateau de Nice. In the reconverted factory, once frequented by Matisse, they now also offer tours highlighting many of the products that are made at Tourettes-sur-Loup.
Although much of what they make is still sold via their own outlets in Nice and the Pays de Grace the export market is also growing strongly. Forty percent of their produce now goes abroad not only to Europe but increasingly to the US and China.
Winning the coveted “Gold Cup of French Good Taste” in 1972 has ensured that the company stays among the top ranks of the seductive art of French confiserie.
In 2004 in conjunction with esteemed French culinary journalist Jacques Gantié, Natalie Fuchs, wife of co-owner and PDG Frederic Fuchs, persuaded 25 of the top Provencal chefs to come together in a celebration of culinary expertise using recipes that involved flowers or fruit. The recipe book, De Fruit et de Fleur, that followed, has been a sell-out success offering as it does alternative and creative methods of using flowers or Florian products in cuisine.
Confectionery is widely considered an artform and tasting experience in France. In Paris for example the oldest confiserie is À la Mère de Famille which has stood on its original site at 35 rue du Faubourg Montmartre, for some 250 years. It offers candy and chocolate gift boxes and old fashioned treats such as butterscotch, marshmallows, violet bonbons, candied chestnuts and orange peel.
For those with fond memories of the sweet shops of the post-war era try Confiserie Gaston Tetrel at Epicerie – 44 rue des Petits Champs, Paris described (in French) and illustrated on this blog
A Short History of Confectionery:
(with acknowledgements to Confiserie.org the confectionery trades website)
In the 4th century BC, it was Alexander the Great, who it is reported, gradually spread the culture that had grown keen on sugar — considered to be a cure — along the Mediterranean. For a long time, sugar as well as all other spices were used and sold only in very expensive apothecaries. It was at this time also that luxury confectionery began to take root and among early examples of these were candied fruits and marmalades.
But it was not until the late 15th century, when Europe organised its sugar trade, that a real growth in confectionery became possible. New recipes and creations appeared: candied fruits took off in the region with the arrival of the Popes at Avignon and at the same time a taste for dragees, nougats and pralines emerged. From the 17th century, lozenges, and chestnuts began to appear and confectioners opened luxury boutiques in Paris, stores that were mainly the haunts of the wealthy bourgeoisie.
It was in the 19th century that sugar really became a more democratic commodity thanks to the advent of sugar beet … and ever since, confectioners have been creating new candy and new specialties, based on long traditions and know-how, most of which still exist today.
Writer: Mike Alexander
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