Gaining an Understanding of Provencal Olive Oil
Provence Olives and Olive Oil
The Provencal climate is ideal for olive trees, grapevines and other drought-resistant crops. Olive trees thought to have originated in Northern Africa grow readily in countries bordering the Mediterranean.
The olive branch has long been a symbol of peace and abundance. Cuisine and religion unite around this tiny fruit, even if ideology does not. Countries as diverse as Spain and Israel use olives and the beneficial oil in their native recipes. Both the Bible and the Quran have multiple references to the mighty olive. Maybe we are not so far apart after all.
This resilient tree thrives in Provence’s dry, hot climate. With a strong trunk and deep roots, even an extreme cold will rarely kill the tree. New shoots replace the old tree trunk. In Provence, the trees are pruned in the fall and winter, this keeps them small and concentrates the fruit. Although unlikely the original intent olive groves can serve as firebreaks when a forest fire is raging.
The annual growing cycle for olives requires patience. In late spring, tiny white buds finally appear on the trees. These flowers are tiny and hard to see. Slowly the flowers turn into small, pinkie nail sized green buds. During the summer months, olives grow to full size (a large marble).
Provence is considered a northern production area, the olives turn from green to black in late Fall. Then the olives are harvested (ideally before a heavy frost) and turned into oil or prepared for snacking.
We discovered this recipe for a savoury green olive bread at a cooking class in the Var.
Olives are often harvested by hand in Provence, although, commercial operations use mechanical machinery. The timing for the olive harvest is a bit like the Goldilocks story not too ripe, not too green, no frost damage, not too much water and just enough sun.
At the right moment, olives are collected using a combination of hand-held rakes, nets and lots of hard work. The bounty is then taken to a local, reputable mill and weighed. The fruit is rinsed and then pressed at a low temperature to release the heart-healthy olive oil. The oil is then siphoned into metal containers for storage. The oil needs a resting period of up to six (6) months, for the sediment to settle before it is suitable for use.
Need a getaway? Contact us for details on a gourmet getaway in the olives this Fall.
Olives in their natural state are bitter and hard. As such, there are several ways to process olives for eating, some more natural than others. The traditional process involves a water washing process to eliminate the bitter carbohydrate followed by fermentation with natural flora. The fermentation process can be as short as a couple of weeks or as long as several months. The process involves soaking the olives in a combination of water, salt and vinegar. Soaking the olives in marinades adds flavourings and spices. Read on olives more here.
Choosing Olive Oil
By this time, you have determined that your diet should include some olive oil. Then, the question is, what kind and how to find a decent one? Here, are just a few of the descriptors you might find on an olive oil label:
Imported from Italy
Olive oil comes in a variety of grades. Extra virgin is always from the first pressing. However, unless you are familiar with the source beware, as there are many inferior quality products on the market. According to the book, by Tom Mueller Extra Virginity, The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, the industry is at best corrupt.
This article is an interesting read: Meet the Tree Pruner Behind Some of Italy’s Best and Rarest Olive Oils ~ Saveur Magazine July 2019
Genuine extra virgin oil is the highest quality, produced without solvents and at a temperature below 30 Celsius. Read the label, taste the oil, and purchase the one you like best.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil Legend was previously published on Ginger and Nutmeg.