One of the worst-kept secrets in Aix-en-Provence is the regional candy, the calisson. This candy is made throughout Provence, but is traditionally associated with the town of Aix-en-Provence. Undoubtedly, the most famous store at which to buy these candies is Calissons du Roy René, which is known for continuing to make their calissons partially by hand.
The traditional calisson is a combination of finely ground almond, orange peel, and melon. This combination is shaped into a diamond and then coated in “royal icing”. Contrary to the fancy name, royal icing is actually a mixture of egg white, water, and icing sugar. Of course, calissons are made in a variety of flavors today, including traditionally French flavors like rose and lavender as well as flavors like chocolate and coffee.
As with any traditional French food, the French take great pride and are very serious about the calisson. In reality though, calissons were most likely created by the Italians and brought to France by the Venetians in the fifteenth or sixteenth century. Today, however, the candy has been happily adopted by the citizens of Aix, and currently there are only eight calissoniers in the entire city. Of course, there is also a legend behind the confections. During the seventeenth century, at the height of the Black Plague, calissons were blessed during local masses and handed out as a protection against the disease, as dictated by the patron saint of Aix-en-Provence. In remembrance, every year there is a celebration in the streets of Aix called the Blessing of the Calissons. The calissoniers take their sweets to be blessed at the Church of St. John of Malta and then hand them out to pedestrians for free. Although the traditional confection of France may appear to be the macaroon, calissons are certainly a source of regional pride in Provence.