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KL Keller Foodways is an importer and producer of artisanal food products from Europe, the US and Australia.

A KL Keller Adventure

Oh là là nougat! How Kitty Keller met Jacques Savin of G. Savin

on Tuesday, 28 November 2017. Posted in Import Chronicles

Oh là là nougat! How Kitty Keller met Jacques Savin of G. Savin

KL Keller Foodways is the exclusive importer of G. Savin's unparalleled Nougat de Provence and Nougat de Montélimar. Truly artisanal, these classic Provençal confections, made in a confiserie first founded in 1900, are cooked in small batches in copper cauldrons and rolled out by hand onto marble slabs. The small company (only 15 employees!), purchased by confiseur Georges Savin in 1957, is still family-run by brother-sister team Jacques and Ghislane Savin. Here's the story of how Kitty Keller came to import some of the world's finest nougat:

First, what exactly is nougat?

Nougat is one of the traditional Provençal 13 Desserts of Christmas, and (we think) the tastiest. Likely originating in the Middle East, nougat (torrone in Italy and turrón in Spain) first appeared in Europe in the 15th century and fast became a favored sweet. This delicious, wholesome confection envelops nuts (like almonds and pistachios) in a soft, creamy paste made with egg whites and honey—our Nougat de Provence features orange blossom honey. 

What's so special about Nougat de Montélimar?

Not just any French nougat, this prized aromatic confection is made specifically in Montélimar with the rare lavender honey without which it's simply "Nougat de Provence". It's so special, even the Beatles sang about it in the opening lines of The White Album's "Savoy Truffle".

THESE are the guys you want making your kl keller suprem nougat 4nougat!

And who, you ask, makes the very best Nougat de Provence and Nougat de Montélimar in Montélimar, Provence? G. Savin, bien sûr!  Practically nobody makes nougat like this anymore—it's usually churned out by giant, sleek, anonymous machines, not a couple of confiseurs in shortie aprons!—but the folks at G. Savin do, and you can taste the hand-stirred, hand-formed, tiny-batch difference!

Our nougat debut

So much of my import experience has been serendipitous, and how KL Keller wound up as the exclusive US importer of G. Savin nougat is a perfect example of this. One day back in 1996—I probably had about only eight products and Confections suprem nougat 9were not in my plan—Linda Sikorski, Senior Buyer at Market Hall Foods (then The Pasta Shop), came to me, "Gosh, this G. Savin in Montélimar sounds interesting. Can you get ahold of them and put some cases of their nougat on your next shipment for me?"

I'd heard that Nougat de Montélimar was exceptional. Unfortunately, when I lived in France, I had the idea that I didn't like nougat (I'd only had the industrial stuff), so I'd always drive right past Montélimar going elsewhere. But I said, "Sure!" because, frankly, at that time, we didn't have too many customers.

I ordered several cases of giant 4.5 lb wholesale bars, to be cut up individually for sale. When the shipment arrived, I called Linda. She said, "That's fantastic—wait, how much did I order?" (Remember, twenty-five years ago Nougat de Montélimar was not the household phrase it is now.) She asked if I could sell some of it elsewhere and I replied (gulp), "Sure!".

Now that I had this product, I had to move it. I called the buyer at Oakville Grocery and asked if he needed any Nougat de Montélimar. "Is it any good?" he asked. My reply? (I confess, in my ignorance, I hadn't deigned to taste it yet!) "I'm not a fan of nougat, but Linda Sikorski says it's extraordinary." "Okay," he said and bought one baryes, one 4.5 lb bar! A week later, I got a call: "Er, do you have any more that of that fabulous nougat?" And off went KL Keller on the path of Confections!  kl keller g savin nougat de montelimar 1

The aha! moment

At this point, of course, I had to taste the product myself, and right then and there, I changed my mind forever about nougat. Thanks to the delicate taste and aroma (that local Provençal honey!), the fabulous chew, and the whopping 28% nuts in G. Savin nougat, I was now officially a nougat lover!

Getting beyond the 3.5 oz bar

suprem nougat 10And thus began a commercial arrangement with G. Savin in reverse of my usual approach: I was buying before we'd even met! After some time, Jacques Savin came to visit, and we had coffee, but we were both shy—my French wasn’t very good at that time and neither was his English. Fortunately, we persevered and developed the foundation for a terrific partnership. 

When we started, the only nougat bar G. Savin had retail-ready was the industry standard: a per-unit 3.5 oz bar—smaller than the wholesale gargantuans I'd previously ordered but too big for something without a following yet. I asked Jacques to make something smaller, so he created a 1.75 oz bar that was the perfect intro size and price (he also started it selling in France!).

Quality reignskl keller g savin nougat cauldron 2

By the next Fancy Food Show in SF, Jacques, Linda Sikorski and I were fast friends. At dinner, Linda asked him: "Kitty's starting to sell a lot of nougat. Do you have the capacity?” Jacques' response drove me further into his cult: "Yes, we have capacity, and I don’t care if we add a shift, but I will not change the recipe. It must be made in 240 lb batches regardless of selling volume." Quality is G. Savin's unmovable standard! 

A lasting friendship

By now, Jacques Savin has come to many Fancy Food Shows on both coasts, always with his same helpful demeanor, he has always supported our view of the American market ("Jacques is a modern guy," observed one of our US-based European buyers), and we've enjoyed the luxury of a US exclusive. What started as a tentative relationship over coffee has blossomed into a fulfilling creative collaboration and cherished friendship. I've been to Jacques' house and met his whole family. His daughter, who now has a husband and baby, came and stayed with me for a full, wonderful summer. It can’t get any better than this—who am I to knock serendipity?

—Kitty Keller

The nougat!

kl keller g savin drawing 2Nougat de Provence with Fleur de Sel Caramel ➤
Creamy Provençal almond nougat run through with a ribbon of rich salted butter caramel from Brittany.

Nougat de Montélimar ➤The original Power Bar; a wonderful treat in the lunch box or gym bag, or as an afternoon pick-me-up with coffee or tea.

Nougat de Montélimar Gift Bag ➤
A festive, red-bordered gift bag resplendent with Nougat de Montélimar in bite-sized pieces.

And while you're enjoying G. Savin nougat, don't forget to try G. Savin Calissons de Provence ➤ made with iced French marzipan, candied melon and orange.

KL Keller Foodways
PH: 510-740-2030
FAX: 510-839-7895
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5332 College Avenue, Ste 201,
Oakland, CA 94618

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