Made in Marseille, Made in Provence and now a protected name!
You have to earn the name Made in Marseille! A pure, genuine and authentic 'Savon de Marseille' must be made with at least 72 % vegetable oil (this indication is stamped on one side) and produced using artisan methods. But I agree - it's not always easy to see the wood for the trees when you're faced with a wall of soap in the shops currently springing up all over the place and on the market stalls of Provence. It's always best to check out the label, because bona fide 'Savon de Marseille' should only contain 3 ingredients: olive oil, palm or copra oil and soda (which disappears during the manufacturing process).
Marseille soap store
Authentic Marseille soap
Back in the 17th century, Marseille was an ideal manufacturing base, with Provence providing plentiful quantities of the natural ingredients used to make 'Savon de Marseille': olive oil, soda and Camargue salt. Its port was perfect for developing the soap trade and the flourishing soap industry spread to Salon-de-Provence. At the time, soap was manufactured by oil makers.
There are currently only 4 soap makers left in Marseille and Salon-de-Provence: the 'Savonnerie du Midi', 'Savonnerie du Fer à Cheval' 'Savonnerie du Sérail' and 'Savonnerie Marius Fabre', which still use the ancient cauldron manufacturing technique practised by master soap makers. All 4 manufacturers are grouped under the 'Marseille Union of Soap Professionals' (ASPM) label – a quality charter guaranteeing the soap's origin and extra-pure composition, with 100% vegetable oil and no perfumes, colourings or additives.
Various other soap makers also use old-fashioned artisan techniques. Not all of them use the cauldron method, but they do use pure vegetable oils for their traditional soap cubes. And that's not all: 'Savon de Marseille' manufacturing techniques are set to evolve with the emergence of the more-ecological 'cold process' technique, which does not pollute the environment. Brands include the 'Savonnerie du Regagnas' in Trets and 'Savonnerie d'Antan' in Meyrargues.
Good news! To fight counterfeits, 'Savon de Marseille' soap has (finally) been awarded its own Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), guaranteeing genuine 'Savon de Marseille', Made in Provence – watch out for the label next time you're purchasing.
'Extra-Pure' Savon de Marseille is found in bars and cubes and is ideal for cleansing sensitive skins, cleaning minor wounds and removing stains. In stick form, it is excellent for the teeth and gums - so you really will be washing your mouth out with soap ;-). Slices are used to repel moths, liquid is perfect for household and garden use and flakes are used for delicate clothes.
The local soap makers often jazz up their soaps with perfume or colouring for a more pretty range. But beware, these soaps cannot lay claim to the Extra-Pure label as they have added extra ingredients.
Most artisan soap makers offer guided tours to share their time-honoured know-how. This is a great way to check out the authenticity of the products on offer and ensure they are bona fide Made in Marseille or Made in Provence.
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