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Feb 15, 2014

Candy by the Park with George: Petit Valentin

THE STORY:

My most recent article for the Wall Street Journal is about the best artisanal, hand-made candy makers in Europe. And while I can't repeat any information or photos that you'll find in the article, I can send you over there to read it.

As you can imagine, Anthony and the girls had a lot of fun helping me research it:

 

Meanwhile, I am allowed to share with you some things that didn't make the article; I could write a whole book on just this store and its contents!

 

The store in Paris, Bonbon au Palais (which means Candy at the Palace), is the prettiest candy store I have ever seen in my life, bar none.


It's located in the historic 5th arrondissement, just across from a park. The owner, Georges, designed everything himself and literally custom-built the interior largely with his own hands. It feels like a classroom from the 1950s -- a classroom where you learn about fine French candy. That's my kind of class!



The candies are all artisanal specialties -- each is the finest signature candy of a small, regional candy maker. These, for example, are candied hot peppers from the Vaucluse in southern France. Yes, they are real hot peppers, but as they are carefully de-veined and de-seeded before being intensely candied, they are sweet and not spicy.



Or these, clémentines confites (candied whole clementines) from Bouches-du-Rhône, the Marseilles area in southern France.



There are countless delicious candies -- hard, chewy, soft. I taste the first gummy bear chewy candy that I've ever actually liked, probably because it's made with all natural ingredients and is simply a super condensed fruit jelly.

 

Some of the most eye-catching candies here are the guimauves in the window. While "guimauves" translates as marshmallows, these taste nothing like the bags of marshmallows you buy in the grocery store and roast on a stick. These are made with real egg whites and real sugars and natural flavors, including Poire William (Pear William), Fleur d'Oranger (Orange Blossom), Coquelicot (Poppy Flower), Vanilla, Green Apple, and so many more.




THE CHEESE: Petit Valentin

This tiny, hard cheese is made from raw goat's milk by Madame Valentin from a farm called "Grande Terre" in Poitou-Charente on the French Atlantic coast. It's sold very hard and the farmer recommends we eat it with fig or pear jam. This to me is just an invitation to put nearly any sweet accompaniment on it, including honey, pâte de coing (quince gel), dried fruit, or jams.



This Petit Valentin is very firm, especially because I buy one that's fairly aged. And this turns out to be a good thing. Like any good Valentine, it's got a little spicy kick to it -- one that comes from the aging process and the intensified natural pepper flavors in the milk. Absolutely delicious, and for those who like a bite with some oomph.

THE CONNECTION:

Sure, yesterday was actually Valentine's Day. But this is close enough, and I don't want to be predictable. But the connection? Artisanal cheese, artisanal candies. The Petit Valentin even looks like a guimauve, and it's about the same size: Just another, fabulous bite-sized French treat!

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