I first tasted Calisson when I was fifteen years old. It was the first time I had ever been overseas and I was completing a high school exchange in the south of France. I don’t know whether it was because I had fallen victim to the construction of Label France, but thus far, my expectations of creamy stews, expensive meats and lavish desserts for every meal had not been met. The food, I found, was just very normal.
However, when my host mum gave me a box of the local delicacy, Calison, I understood the hype surrounding French cooking.
The biscuit itself is a mix of ground almonds, candied melon and orange peel, bound together with orange oil upon a thin wafer, topped with royal white icing. They are typically cut into the shape of a flower petal and eaten in moderation.
It sounds like a pretty standard biscuit, but as someone who isn’t into sweets, the subtly of the flavours were amazing. For me, it tasted like flowers.
Calisson d’Aix en Provence, funnily enough, originated from Aix en Provence. Aix is a small city about 80 km north of Marseilles and famous for its archetypal French provincial old town and countryside. Aix is perceived as (or perceives itself) as the sophisticated and cultured city of Provence, in contrast to its large and gritty sister city Marseilles, with its working class reputation and supposed immigrant problem.
As enchanting as the first time I tasted Calisson, it’s history too is quite the fantasy (too many mystical adjectives?) According to legend, in 1454 the Calisson was created for 22 year old Princess Jeanne of Aix en Provence who was unhappily married to the 42 year old king. After eating the Calisson, Jeanne became happy and lived a long a healthy life with the king.
Calisson aren’t too difficult to make yourself, although, it would be hard to prepare as perfect as the famous Confiserie du Roy Rene. Calisson are difficult to find in Australia – sometimes the Alliance Française may serve them during Provence features – otherwise you can order and ship Calisson directly from France.