The destinies of Montélimar and of nougat have been mixed since the middle of the 17th century. Nougat was so important in the provençal tradition that it became one of the thirteen Christmas desserts of the region.
The origins of nougat. According to the legend, a charming old lady loved to prepare delicious confections for her nieces and nephews... which prompted the children to say: "Tante Manon, tu nous gâtes" (aunt Manon, you are spoiling us). Prior to her death, the old lady gave the secret recipe to her favorite niece and told her: "Tu appelleras cette confiserie : nougat!"(call this confection: nougat).
In 1548, Olivier de Serres, a gentleman agronomist, planted mulberry trees and also almond trees on his estate at Villeneuve-sur-Berg, just a few miles from Montélimar. Nothing more was needed to fire the imagination of the local confectioners. Almonds mixed with Provence honey would now replace the walnut cake "nut gatum" or "nougo", a specialty baked in the areas of the Oc language. Little by little, Montélimar specialized in the production of a new treat, creating a recipe whereby almonds replaced walnuts.
An official recognition. Montélimar became the nougat town in the second half of the 17th century. In 1701 this delicacy officially acquires its fame among the nobles: on January 2nd, the town begs Philippe d'Anjou (Louis XIV's grandson) and his brothers, the Dukes of Burgundy and Berry, to accept a quintal of nougat each (100 kgs or about 220 pounds). Philippe d'Anjou liked it so much that he introduced it to the royal court. Soon, nougat became symbolic of classic French good taste.
A traditional "savoir-faire" and a unique taste. The main ingredients of Montélimar nougat are sugar, honey, egg whites, vanilla, almonds and pistachio nuts. The almonds are sorted by hand and blanched in boiling water. Their skins are removed between two cork rollers, then the almonds are lightly roasted. A paste is obtained by whipping a mixture of honey and glucose that is cooked in a double boiler. The sugar is cooked separately in a copper caldron and must stay white (this requires a lot of attention on the part of the maître-nougatier). The sugar is then poured in the honey paste, stiff egg whites are added and the whole mixture is slowly beaten. The paste becomes white and its temperature reaches about 90º C. Vanilla, almonds and pistachios are added at the end of the cooking process. The mixture is stirred one last time to thoroughly mix the ingredients; it is then poured into rectangular molds lined with unleavened bread. Once it has cooled, the nougat is unmolded and cut into various shapes: squares, fingers, dominos...
This nougat has a very distinctive consistency: it is tender, yet not chewy. It literally melts in your mouth. The name "nougat" concerns products containing at least 15% almonds or hazelnuts. In order to be worthy of the "Nougat de Montélimar" label, the product must contain at least 30% almonds (or 28% almonds and 2% pistachios), and 25% honey.