Olive Odyssey

Written by Provence Confidential. Posted in Food

Olive Odyssey

I stopped off in Roquebrune Cap Martin on my way to Menton a few weeks ago in hopes of seeing the olive wood sculptor whom I last saw in the mid 80’s. Julien was sitting in his atelier, Au Coeur de l’Olivier, exactly where he has been for the last 50 years. He now works with two other sculptors who work the wood into religious or animal figures. I have a preference for his remarkable salad bowls, cutting boards and ladles that all have beautiful flowing shapes. www.sculptures.fr

With approximately 100 varieties of olive trees cultivated in Provence,  groves are visible throughout the region. A major frost in 1956 led to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of trees.

Many villages still have their own olive oil mills that work on a cooperative basis. Villagers harvest their olives in the autumn. All olives start off green and become black as they mature and ripen. At the mill they are weighed and mixed with those of the others before being crushed to make virgin olive oil.* The quantity of olive oil produced each year will depend on the total weight of olives delivered. An olive tree is productive once every two years so the harvest varies from one year to the next. Each contributor will receive a portion of the oil for his/her own consumption.

One region producers a truly exceptional olive oil which is made from a variety of four olives: Salonenque, the Berruguette, the Verdale and the Grossane. In the Valley of les Baux de Provence, the olive oil has received the AOC appellation which is a guarantee of the origin. This oil is delicate, fragrant and exceptionally fine. To receive an Extra Virgin Olive Oil label the acidity level must be between 0 % and 0.8 % and to receive the Virgin Olive Oil the acidity must be between 0.8 % and 2 %.

But not all olives are used for olive oil. When you visit outdoor markets you will discover that there are many ways of preparing different varieties of olives that go perfectly with a glass of rosé before lunch. In Provence you can come across Amère olives (black and bitter), Cassée (green and broken), Douce (green and sweet), Douce à l’ail (green, sweet and with garlic), Escabèche (green and black with a mixture of baby onions, carrots), Nice (small black), Fenouil (green with fennel), Harissa (green or black with spicy tomoto sauce), Pimentée (any colour and spicy), Provençale (any colour with herbe de provence added), Tailladée (green and cut) and the list goes on.