I recently treated myself and our house to a little shopping spree of French soap. Savon de Marseille holds special meaning for me, when my sister and I were little, we would spend hours playing hide and go seek with our cousin Leon and one of the best hiding places was what we called La Cave or the cellar of our uncle’s house. Today the cellar is pristine, tiled and organized, but back then, it was beyond messy, it was littered with cobwebs, musty, rats lived there and it was a treasure trove of everything and anything from our grandparents’ parents things, their things and among the treasures were books, magazines, hard candy, cigarettes and soap, specifically le Savon de Marseille. Our grandfather, after the war worked as an accountant; his clients couldn’t pay him with money so they went back to the barter system, our grandfather was paid in baked goods, candy, cigarettes and soap.
Our uncle still has some soap left after all these years, it just doesn’t go bad, it can take stains out of anything and it’s still made according to the ancient recipe; here is what the website Savon de Marseille has to say about their product along with their explanation of their soap-making process. My affection for the soap was never about the history of the soap itself, it was all about the connection to our grandfather, though I was gratified to learn about its low environmental impact, its purity and reliance of natural elements without any chemical processes.
“Big blocks of olive oil based soap have been crafted since the Middle Ages in the South of France. In 1688 it became law that only soaps made according to strict, ancient methods could bear the famous mark “Savon de Marseille.”
Only a few savonneries (soap factories) near Marseille still make this legendary soap in the traditional manner. But Savon de Marseille is once again being rediscovered for its purity and gentle skin care, and its popularity is on the rise worldwide.
It takes our Maitre de Savon (soapmaster) two weeks to make Savon de Marseille. The delicate mixture of olive oil, alkaline ash from sea plants and Mediterranean Sea salted water are heated for ten days in antique cauldrons, then poured into open pits where it hardens. Cut into cubes and stamped, the soaps are then set out to dry in the sun and mistral winds.
The fine white powder on the surface of the soap is a bit of the sea salt, which will disappear once the soap is wet. This beloved characteristic affirms the authenticity of genuine Savon de Marseille. Fresh Marseille Soap can be a bit moist. Allowing it to dry and harden will make it last longer.
Savon de Marseille is traditionally green or white. The white soap is made with palm oil, the green with at least 50% olive oil. Both varieties are exquisite, ultra-moisturizing skin care. Marseille Soap is recommended by dermatologists throughout the world for dry skin and other ailments. Its incredible purity and moisturizing properties make it ideal for sensitive skins. In France it has been trusted for generations to cleanse everything from linens to little faces.
Savon de Marseille is totally biodegradable, requires little packaging and its manufacture is environmentally friendly. Authentic Savon de Marseille is stamped with its weight in grams – a practice left over from years ago which allowed households to compare prices and plan their inventories.”