The "Veritable" Savon de Marseille

Posted on September 4, 2011 by Savon de Marseille | 0 comments

Savon de Marseille, the legendary French soap was officially protected under French law in 1688. Under the strict guidelines, in order to be marked with the famous appellation a soap must contain certain quantities of vegetable oils and no animal fats. France's humble "household soap" has since gained world fame for its quality and gentle care.

But like anything else, profiteers have seized upon the mark's hard-earned reputation and created imitations based loosely (if at all) on the methods of the original French soapmasters. We have seen the words "Savon de Marseille" (or sly variations) stamped into soaps from every corner of the globe. Mass-produced counterfeits often contain ingredients expressly forbidden by the law and are punched out by massive industrial machinery bearing no resemblance to the original artisanal processes.

Sometimes customers ask us of the original: "How do you use a soap that's so big?" Of course the size and shape were convenient centuries ago when the main use for the utilitarian soap was for household chores. And while designers everywhere still applaud its rustic simplicity, it's far bigger than other soaps and can be cumbersome if you're not used to it. But what happens after a few uses is amazing: The corners of the cube soften, the stampings fade and the deep inner green comes through. The soap becomes ever more beautiful. And the reason is: It's soft. I'll explain.

For while there are soapmakers throughout the world making what they call "Savon de Marseille" our factory is the ONLY one still making them entirely by hand, without machines, just as they've been made since the Middle Ages. Instead of being extruded by mechanical mixers and formed into cubes under high pressure by machines, our soaps are mixed in antique cauldrons, poured into open pits, pushed through manual wire cutters and hand-stamped with ancient stamps passed from fathers to sons. The result is a soap that is softer, smoother, gentler, REAL.

I just grabbed a big block from the old drying racks the soaps temporarily rest on here in our U.S. facility and did something that would be impossible with any but the "veritable." I pushed my thumbs through a 600 gram cube and pulled the two halves of the soap apart, revealing the beautiful deep olive oil green heart and the clean "scent" of its natural ingredients and the fresh Mediterranean air that cured it.

Our own master soapmaker explained it to me recently, after lifting a giant 40KG block with a co-worker onto the old wooden cutting table. As he sliced through a fresh block, he pulled some excess off the edge and pressed it like clay between his thumb and forefinger then held it to his nose. "This soap is ALIVE" he said. And while we had no mass-produced soaps to compare within the stone walls of this centuries-old soap factory in the heart of Marseille, I knew what this hard-working, third-generation soapmaker meant when he waved his calloused hand. "The others" he said, "are dead."

Filed under Speaking of Savon de Marseille, Making Savon de Marseille and was tagged with Marseille