I woke up, not in the plushiness of the Château, but that was OK. I was exhausted when I fell into bed and slept well, so now, I was in the right mood to explore all things nougat.
While I was organising the rest of my stay, with the help of the tourist information, I also asked about Hélène’s one word “Nougat”. I really had no idea where to go and how to explore the possibilities. The young woman behind the counter smiled broadly when I simply said “Nougat”?
“You have come to the right place”, she answered, Montélimar is “world known” for its nougat, implying that there was really no other place to visit.
“You mean world-renowned?” I asked. She looked at me quizzically, as if I were doubting her.
“But, of course, world known,” she repeated.
I left it at that and was given two addresses to visit. After my coffee and rather dry croissants, I set off in search of the sweet delight. I had the choice to go to a nougat museum (without the manufacturer) or to visit a manufacturer without a museum.
I decided to start at the museum. Arriving there, my eyes were drawn to the gigantic statues of two children taking a large tin of nougat from the roof, directly by the entrance. You can’t miss it. Classic car enthusiasts are rewarded with the display of three vintage cars.
Entering it, we were given the full tour, the history of the family, and the old equipment (sadly no longer in operation). I was wearing modern museum technology in the form of headphones. Whilst admiring the old copper cauldrons, the modern explanation piped into my ears, like a song. It was pleasant and informative.
Had I been a kid, then I would have been given flyers, a game book, and more entertaining things.
We were rewarded at the end of the tour. In a special room, we could partake in a nougat tasting. And rather tasty it was, if I might say so. All of my sweet teeth were having a field day. I take to sweets like a duck to water. And it was delicious.
Lunch? A delightful little restaurant with cats on the walls. Crudités, “magret de canard” with the seasonal vegetables. Simple and wholesome. No pudding. The aluminium chairs outside didn’t appeal to me, I opted to sit inside, the Provençal yellow, dark furniture, stone walls, stone tiled floor. I spent some time trying to guess how many corks were in the glass container by the shelf. Small square tables, tablecloths, table runners but…paper napkins. Oh, well! The pictures of cats were all over the wall, staring at me. I was back in the south, almost in my home territory.
After lunch, I went to my hot date with nougat making. I was excited and impatient to get to my “meeting point” which was another nougat place in town. I wouldn’t say that it was pink, but a pinkish terracotta façade with an apple-green door, all rather unassuming. I walked in, and my senses began to focus on something special and delicious. I had deliberately skipped dessert at lunch to allow myself the pleasure of sniffing the delights ahead of me. I was not disappointed.
Lavender honey, sugar, egg whites, almonds and of course, the pistachios, all these lush ingredients were transformed by skilled hands into a heavenly sweet also known as nougat. I was so captivated, I became engrossed in every step of the production process. I forgot everything around me. Nougat is not difficult to make, but the right balance of ingredients, years and years of experience, and tradition, cultivated over generations in the same family, makes all the difference. Making the black nougat requires even more experience and dedication. But all the hard work is worth it when you taste the final product. It just stands out. It goes beyond having the best ingredients.
History has a habit of repeating itself. Even my personal history. After my trip to the production, I left the shop. But, as if by magic, an invisible hand seemed to reach out to me, take me by my collar and drag me back inside. Resistance was futile. The trap had snapped shut.
I turned around and retraced my steps, like walking on my footprints in the sand on the beach. And then I was back in the shop! Just like that!
My eyes scanned the shelves heaving under the mountains of Nougat. Like a child whose eyes are larger than its stomach, I noticed some of the bigger bars and an uncountable number of bags, brimming with nougat squares. There was a short, sharp battle between the devil and the angel in my head. The devil won. But, in some instances, he always does. I don’t even know why the angel decides to get involved.
So, let me confess. I did just buy a tiny amount more than a private person would. Just a tiny amount, which is the normal amount to use professionally. Actually, it was a lot more!
When I saw my pink lady, I had a panic attack. Like a person who had eaten too much, my car was full! The poor car, not to mention the poor woman who was going to, somehow, squeeze the latest conquest, was bursting at the seams.
But, where there is a will, there is a way. I stood there, staring at the interior, my arms still full of nougat. But then, the angel appeared and came to my rescue. And in a flash, all the nooks and crannies that were still empty were filled with blocks and bags of nougat.
I wasn’t really that far from home any more, but I felt it would be only right to enjoy another evening here in Montélimar. The owner of my accommodation was only too delighted to fulfil my wish and extend my stay.
As I sank into the sheets, my brain was tormenting me. The question was simple. Do I drive straight home, or do I do a detour and drop in on Antoine? He was a sweetie, and I did have a present for him.
The question remained unanswered as I drifted off into a deep sleep.