Connoisseurs of typical French foods will undoubtedly have heard of Nantes, a stately city seated on the Upper Loire Valley in the Brittany region. The Berlingot or the Petit Beurre Lu, for instance, are iconic products of the Breton heritage. But the lesser-known Rigolette Nantaise is well worth a trip in itself. Colourful, finely crafted, and full of history, this fruity ‘bonbon’ is a fitting introduction into the magic of Nantes.
TEXT: PIERRE ANTOINE ZAHND | PHOTOS: RIGOLETTES NANTAISES | MAIN PHOTO: STÉPHANE LE GUIRIEC.
Stéphane Le Guiriec, who took over the company in 2010, goes so far as to call the Rigolette “part of the cultural heritage of the city”. The story starts in 1902 when Charles Bohu, a local grocery clerk, set out to conceive a new sort of confection that would be softer than the Berlingot, made out of cooked, hardened sugar. In contrast, the Rigolette consists of a thin shell of steam-cooked sugar, filled with a soft, frosted fruit pulp. Unlike the Berlingot, this more sophisticated sweet could be consumed in two ways: by biting into it, or by letting it melt. To add a touch of fun, Bohu called the sweet after his facetious cat Rigolette, a named inspired by Verdi’s opera Rigoletto, but also linked with the verb rigoler: to laugh. The success of the new product was such that he permanently converted his business into a sweet shop.
Whereas Berlingot was a product for the common man, the Rigolette was aimed at the more demanding palate of the city’s bourgeoisie. The five traditional flavours, which are still produced by Le Guiriec and his team, were on the exotic, costly side: lemon, tangerine, blackcurrant, pineapple and raspberry. Since then, the Rigolettes have acquired new flavours, all in keeping with the company’s cultural legacy, and Le Guiriec’s staunch love for his region: their salted caramel, for instance, is a Breton classic. The sweets also come in seasonal fillings, with fig, pear, grapes, quince and chestnut for winter; apricot, lime, cherry and ‘MuroiseⓇ’ for summer. As a hint to Charles Bohu’s original formula, Le Guiriec has also extended the range of exotic flavours, with violet, rose, hibiscus, and orange blossom.
A pragmatic traditionalist, Le Guiriec is proud to follow the same recipe as his forebear Charles Bohu. All sweets are made from French products, free of colouration and artificial flavouring, and the same man-made processes are observed. Les Rigolettes Nantaises are a fine example of modern confectionary, a part of the Nantes cultural heritage, and, evidently, quite a tasty treat.