All foodies know that olive oil is one of the emblems of Mediterranean cuisine. Make the most of your stay in the Alpilles region to visit one of the top olive groves in Provence. The olive growers will be happy to share their love of their work and a taste of the green gold of the Alpilles.
A little history
Olive growing is an ancestral tradition that is first recorded in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East in around 3,000 B.C. The oldest olive oil jars have been found in Jericho, Palestine. Today, there are olive groves in north Africa, Spain, Greece, Italy and, of course, in the south of France. Olive farming was introduced to Provence by the Greeks and Phoenicians in the 8th century B.C. and experienced a boom in the 19th century.
Olive oil from the Baux-de-Provence valley
Olive farming is a major economic activity in the south of France, especially in the Alpilles region. Since 1997, the oils from the Baux-de-Provence valley have had the Protected Designation of Origin label (AOC in French). The production area extends from Tarascon in the west to Orgon in the east, between the River Rhone and the Durance. The olives are harvested in autumn (table olives) or between November and February for olives used to make oil. You will notice that some olive oils have a taste of cocoa, sourdough or truffle, while others resemble hazelnut, artichoke or tomato. Although most of the production today is used to make oil, Alpilles olives are also used in tapenades, creams and jams. There are also soap and beauty products made from olive tree leaves.
Visit to an olive grove and olive oil tasting
From your holiday residence in the Alpilles region, set off to visit the oil mills and olive farms in Provence. The programme includes a chance to buy olive oil and olives from the farms, guided tours, tastings, a walk through the olive fields, cookery lessons and tips on how to pick olives... Here are some of the best places to visit:
- Mouriès cooperative oil mill : the miller will guide you through the old and new facilities and share his ancestral skills with you (free guided tour and tasting every Tuesday and Friday in summer). Visit www.moulincoop.com
- Cornille Oil Mill in Maussane-les-Alpilles : once the property of the Lord of Manville, the oil mill has been owned by the cooperative since 1924. (free visit to the olive grove from Easter to 30 September, every Tuesday and Thursday at 11 a.m.). Visit www.moulin-cornille.com
- Saint-Jean Oil Mill in Fontvieille : meet Anne and Magali, the enthusiastic master millers (visits to the mill, the manufacturing process as well as a tapenade workshop and tasting). Visit www.moulin-saintjean.com
- Domaine des Plaines Marguerite in Maussane : an olive farm set up in 2005, with 25 hectares of olive groves listed as AOP Vallée des Baux-de-Provence, right at the heart of the Alpilles. Visit www.domaineplainesmarguerite.com
- La Coquille Oil Mill in Fontvieille : at the heart of the Baux Valley, between Fontvieille and Les Baux-de-Provence, the Moulin de la Coquille produces oil made from the estate's olives. Visit www.moulindelacoquille.com
- Domaine du Mourre de Viret in Saint-Rémy de Provence : an authentic olive grove at the foot of the Alpilles range, on the lands of a 17th century farmhouse. www.domainedumourredeviret.com
Virgin Olive Oil and Extra Virgin, what's the difference ?
There are two types of olive oil corresponding to different production methods: Virgin Olive Oil and Extra Virgin Oil. The main difference is the level of acidity. The lower the level of acidity, the higher quality of the oil.
Virgin Extra Olive Oil is a pure juice from fresh olives, using mechanical methods (pressing, decantation, filtering, etc.) which has no impact on the final product. Virgin Olive Oil is extracted in the same way, except that it can contain up to 2 % of acidity. The reference to "première pression à froid" ("first cold pressed") means the oil has been extracted from the olive in a traditional way and the cold pressing was carried out mechanically.
Tastes and colours
At first, an olive is green. There aren't olive trees producing green olives and others producing black ones. The colour varies with the level of maturity. For olive oils, it's the same. The "fruity green" flavour is found in oils made from olives picked a few days before they are fully mature and pressed within 24 hours of harvesting. The "fruity black" flavour results from controlled fermentation of the olives for 4 to 5 days after the harvest.