It’s always good to visit a new place as, if you have a enquiring mind, everything seems interesting, fresh and exciting. We visited Montmorillon for the first time recently, sometimes it’s known as the Cité de l’Écrit as it has a history of printing and book selling. It is just over an hour South of our Gites here at La Richardiere and therefore the town makes a good day out for all the family.
On our visit, we arrived around lunch time which is not a good idea in France as everything closes, except, fortunately, for the restaurants. We found a comfortable setting by the River Gartempe, next to the central bridge, and took a table at the Crêperie, Le Brouard where we enjoyed some well-presented Crepes for both the main course and for dessert.
Our reason for visiting Montmorillon was, initially, to explore the book shops in the town which had been famous for its printing industry and now has numerous book shops throughout the town. However, shortly before we left our house we discovered that Montmorillon had a “Musée de Macaron” – Yes a Macaroon Museum which was immediately added to our itinerary.
Montmorillon, is known as the “City of Writing and Book Professions” and has been a centre of publishing and printing in bygone days. It is a popular destination thanks to its pretty river banks, Gothic bridge, old houses, monuments like the 12th-century Octagon and Notre-Dame church with its Sainte-Catherine crypt which contains magnificent frescoes, and the medieval district of Brouard where there are many bookshops and craft workshops.
We explored several book shops and even bought one or two books. We particularly liked the book shop run by an Englishman called, James. His shop, The Glass Key, was very welcoming and gave us a good insight into the book world in Montmorillon. We also stopped at the Chinese/Asian shop which was one of the calmest shops we’ve been into with a gentle ambiance and delightful Asian music. We looked at the artefacts displayed in the shop and bought some Chinese tea which is still to be tried.
Musée du Macaron
After spending an enjoyable couple of hours exploring the book shops and streets of Montmorillon it was time to head for the Musée du Macaron. We were in for a treat.
The museum is above a Chocolate and Macaroon shop and, as is the custom in the Tourist industry, one has to visit the shop in order to gain access to the museum. It was well-managed and families were allowed in at suitably distanced intervals.
Macaroons were brought to France by Catherine de Médicis when she married Henri II in 1533. The original recipes can be traced back to Italian Artisans from the 16th cent. and particularly through religious orders where they appeared to be very popular with monks.
There are many traditional recipes for making Macaroons, but basically the Almond nut is crushed with sugar and egg white and then dried fruit, alcohol, chocolate, coffee etc) can be added to allow the individual to create their own special macaroon.
Macaroons are made from Almonds which are harvested at different times of the year. June/June when they are green and soft and in September/October when they are dry. Traditionally, the Almond tree is shaken or struck with poles to encourage the Almonds to fall onto large sheets laid out on the ground.
The museum had on display an amazing machine which was in use until quite recently which effectively took in Almonds at one end and Macaroons appeared at the other end.
We were surprised to find out that there are several popular types of Macaroon in France and these can be seen in the different regions.
These Macaroons are the classic French Macaroons that we all know, but they are a speciality from Paris and not from other areas of France.
Here are a selection of Macaroons from around the country. Those from Nancy are the ones which look more like the Macaroons we see in England.
At the end of our visit to the museum we took part in a “degustation”, or tasting, of some Macaroon samples.
It was interesting to experience the various tastes and styles of Macaroon. Some had fruit added, and some were just plain Almond flavoured, but, except the chocolate Almond, had any colouring unlike the Parisian Macaroons. The accompanying drink was also a surprise as we had never tasted an Almond drink before.
On a darker note, we discovered that there is a type of Almond nut which is called a “Bitter Almond”, which is poisonous to humans because, once bitten, saliva from the mouth reacts with the “amygdalin” in the Almond nut to produce Cyanide which is fatal.
Fortunately, it has such a bitter taste that humans rarely take a second bite and several bites are needed to cause any significant problem. Years ago, these bitter Almonds were used to get rid of harmful animals like foxes.
Festivals and Families
In these more modern times we celebrate in many ways. In Montmorillon there have been Macaron festivals in the past, with carnival floats and exhibitions, but these seem to have faded away, but we guess this would have been a spectacle to be enjoyed by everyone.
The main producers of Macaroons in Montmorillon, nowadays, is the family Rannou-Metiver. They started producing Macaroons in 1862 and the family continues today. If you enjoy Macarons and Chocolate then more information can be found at www.rannou-metivier.com.