In love with the caramels in the France Box? Seventy years after its founding, Maison d’Armorine is one of the best-loved confectionery companies in the country. They’re based in the western coast of France near Brittany and have a thing for sweets! Here, we speak to their team and learn about the company’s early beginnings.
How did Maison d’Armorine first begin?
The company was started in 1946, one year after the end of WWII. Throughout the entire war, it was very hard for towns to be stocked with food. Agricultural production was heavily reduced since the farmers had gone to war, and most of the rationing went to the men at war, so some stores were empty.
There were production problems, and on the other, problems with rationing. We had to use factories for purposes other than food. For this reason, between 1939 and 1945, people made due with what they had and turned first towards products of necessity, like potatoes or tobacco. Sugar was more of a product of comfort, so after the war, people were hungry for these foods that they had been unable to enjoy.
But despite the circumstances, sweets and sugar are still products of pleasure, and we need sweet products to be happy. It’s still the case today and it was the case at the time.
This is why after the war, so many new sweet products found so much success. I’m sure that Maison d’Armorine would still have been popular at another time, but the timing of WWII certainly helped accelerate it.
So what were the early days of Maison d’Armorine like?
Raymond and Ivonne, who are the grandparents of Maison d’Armorine’s current manager, Allain Audubert, came to from Paris to live in Quiberon on the northern coast of France.
At this time, Quiberon was just starting to become a seaside resort, and during that first summer, they set up a table on the Quiberon beach and sold caramels and lollipops that they had made in their own kitchen at home. So the adventure began with just a table, a few candies, and beachgoers in Quiberon!
Wow, that’s incredible! Sounds like Maison d’Armorine was a homemade operation…
Maison d’Armorine has always specialized in caramel, specifically salted butter caramel because of the local butter that a farmer from Quiberon would make. One of our most popular products was actually a loliipop – called the niniche. At the time, it was actually quite simple to make: all you needed to do was take some caramel in your hands, roll it into a long cylinder, add a little stick and a little paper, and voilà! You have a caramel lollipop.
They continued to make this by hand for a long time, but eventually, they started using a roller, which is what enables them to roll the caramel and give the shape of the niniche. It enabled the company to enter the Patrimoine Culinaire Francais, so it’s obviously a very important product for us. The recipes have been exactly the same since the beginning, but we have new flavors in addition to the original ones.
Maison d’Armorine now has a few store locations. How did the company grow over time?
It was very artisanal and manual in the beginning, but in 1949, Raymond and Ivonne bought their first boutique just above the beach. It’s where Raymond and Ivonne started to make the lollipops in front of people instead of at home, and at this point, the story of the niniche really started.
Every night, they made niniches and sold them to customers when they were still warm. It’s a tradition that continues throughout July and August, and that we want to continue, because it’s important for our clientele. We have people who ate niniches in our store in the 50s, and today, they bring their grandkids and great grandkids.
What do you think drove this success?
There are two things that are really key: on the one hand, raw materials, and on the other, the know-how, which is just as important as the raw materials. You can’t separate the two.
Note: This interview was translated from French.