December 23, 2007

French Olive oil

French Olive oil: A very expensive golden elixir, but worth its price. Some brands are available in the U.S.

Hey, Stéphane, I apologize for having waited so long to answer your request on French olive oil, but several recurrent nasty colds in October and November slowed me down quite a bit. I confess: I am an olive oil addict. But believe me, it is a topic that is dear to my heart of ‘’méridional’’ who was born and raised in an area full of olive trees, as you were able to see in July during our vacation in the département du Gard. We always used olive oil at home, even though my mother used a commercial brand, usually the very decent Puget, a very old family-owned company from Marseilles, that in the fifties and sixties sold its olive oil in conic containers made of carton that were both pretty and useful since they protected the oil from various sources of light. Light and heat are the worth enemies of olive oil, along with oxygen. This is why you should always keep a bottle of olive oil tightly capped or stopped, store it away from direct sunlight, and away from any source of heat, especially in the kitchen. Olive oil, especially the cheap kind, can become rancid very rapidly. In fact never keep an opened bottle of olive oil for more than 3 months. Nowadays, Puget is owned by a megagroup, Lesieur, and it is probably the best selling French brand of commercial olive oil. Among its 3 extra-virgin oils I prefer the ‘’fruitée’’, that I used to prepare the baked fresh thyme and garlic chicken that we ate in the house we rented in Pompignan in July. But, even though Puget is still quite fine for everyday use, its quality is not the same as it used to be and it does not have the subtle, and exhilarating aroma of a 100% French olive oil. The reason is that it is no longer made exclusively from French-grown olives, but probably from a blend of olives coming from other countries from the European Community.  

The French production (4,000 metric tons) is so small that it does not even cover 5% of French domestic consumption. So France imports 95% of the olive oil it needs from Spain, Italy, Greece, and North-Africa. As you know I use a large amount of olive oil in my cooking, since we would never use a different oil to make salad dressings, bake or broil chicken-based dishes, or even fry eggs. I love making mashed potatoes with olive oil instead of butter. And naturally, between May and October, I pour it liberally on tomatoes, and other cold or warm vegetable dishes, fresh mozzarella cheese, and crusty baguette. I use it, along with Dijon mustard and thyme, as an emulsion to coat a leg of lamb or a pork tenderloin. And of course it is a very important component of my ratatouille. So you will not be surprised that I buy about 2 full liters per month during the summer months. But if you want to know the truth, I do not use French olive oil in my everyday cooking, it would be too expensive. I use a very decent Greek olive oil, made 100% from Kalamata olives, that I buy at Trader Joe’s for 7.99 dollars a full liter. I tried other cheap extra-virgin olive oil from Spain and Italy, like the ones you find at Whole Foods, but none, except maybe the Spanish Zoe, of them was as flavorful as my Greek oil, which by the way is always sold in a slightly greenish glass bottle, and has an expiration date clearly marked on the bottle.  

It is very important to buy an olive oil that is very young, no more than 18 months after harvest time. As a matter of fact the optimum taste of an extra-virgin oil lasts only a few months. That is why you should never buy an olive oil that does not have a date either of production, or of limit of consumption. Before you choose one that you like, go to a store where they have open samples, and try a few different oils. Remember that a fine olive oil, like a fine wine, needs to be looked at, smelled, and tasted very carefully. It is best to taste it straight from the bottle in a small plastic spoon, and not on bread. Once you put the content of that small spoon in you mouth, do not swallow it right a way. Let some air enter you mouth and roll it around your tongue and back to your taste buds, and let the full power of the fruit slowly invade your palate and your soul. If you close your eyes you can actually hear the provençal cicadas sing in your head. Learn to recognize the different aromas and organoleptic characteristics of the oil: Is it peppery, fruity, herbaceous, bitter, complex, very mild or very ripe? Does its bouquet (like for a wine) have notes of fresh artichoke bottom, of anise seed, of raw almonds, of lavender, of apples, or is it slightly citrussy? It will take time, but eventually, you will enjoy the ‘’degustation’’ of fine extra-virgin French olive oil as much as you derive a lot of pleasure from wine tastings.  

About that delicious olive oil that we bought at the farmers market in Saint-Hippolyte-du Fort last summer 

  Me too Stéphane... I mourn the end of that great bottle of ‘’L’Olivette’’, this very silky and fruity extra-virgin olive oil that we bought at the farmer’s market in Saint-Hippolyte-du-Fort, during our summer vacation. I wanted to call the very informed salesman who took care of us, since I was curious to know what variety of olives were used to produce that oil and in what village they were harvested. But I could not find any phone number corresponding to the address mentioned on the bottle: L’Olivette des Garrigues, 34690 Fabrègues. Fabrègues is a very small town a few miles West of Montpellier. But we cannot be sure that this ‘’brand’’ of oil, that is not sold in stores, is made from olives harvested in the Fabrègues area, even though some olive trees planted around there produce good fruit. I would guess that this guy, who is probably a small broker or wholesaler, buys its oil from a cooperative or independent ‘’moulin’’ (mill), bottles it and stick that fancy pretty label bearing the rather common name of ‘’L’olivette’’ on it . Anyway, it was very smooth and probably barely filtered. Its very low level of acidity, less than 0,5% according to the label, and the fact that it had been extracted and bottled just a few months before we bought it, were the main reasons for its suavity and fresh fruity aftertaste, with just a faint note of spice in the finish. Judging by that taste, I would say that this oil was not produced in the neighboring area of Nimes, the youngest (2004) of the 8 government-certified AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) areas of production of French olive oils. These AOC ‘’ Huile d’Olive de Nimes’’ oils that are produced by 7 coops or privately owned mills, derive for more than 70% from ‘’Picholine’ olives, that give them a more assertive, slightly bitter and peppery flavor, than the one we had in l’Olivette. Its aroma reminded me more of a ‘’huile d’olive de la Vallée des Baux’’, another AOC located between Maussane-Les-Alpilles and Les Baux-de-Provence, not too far from Saint-Rémy (where Van Gogh painted some beautiful olive trees). In any case it did not bear any mention of the area of origin, which would indicate an AOC, or even the label ”Huile d’Olive de France“ guaranteeing that it was a 100% French olive oil. But I am ready to bet that it was an authentic French olive oil and not one of these cheap blends of dubious origin that too many unscrupulous traveling salesmen sell to ignorant tourists during the summer at their stands in open and farmers markets in Provence and Languedoc.
My friend Kiki last year brought me back a bottle of a very silky olive oil from the well-known Moulin Jean-Marie Cornille from Maussane, in the Alpilles, near Les Baux-de-Provence. It is one of my favorite French olive oils and belongs to the category of ‘’fruité noir’’ (fruity, coming from mature black olives). This oil was awarded the Gold Medal at the 2007 Concours Général Agricole in Paris, in that particular category of oil.  

What make French olive oils different from olive oils from other producing countries? 

To answer the second part of your question as to what make French AOC olive oils different from olive oils from other producing countries I would say: To me they are better because they are produced in much smaller quantities than in other countries, under very strict production and quality standards. These standards are as diverse and constraining and deal with several factors such as the density of olive trees planted per acre, or plot, the yield, the method of harvesting, and the production techniques guaranteeing the non usage of heat and chemicals in the process, etc. Also because, like it is the case for French AOC wines, these oils are made from specific varietals of olives grown in very well defined geographic areas that reflect very distinctive terroir tastes and aromatic characteristics. The olives are harvested in the fall, then crushed, usually within 24 hours, between two granite wheels to create a paste, that is then pressed according to very old traditional methods to extract a mix of water and oil. Then this fluid mix is decanted or more ad more often centrifuged to separate the oil from the water. The oil will be stored first in metallic barrels and later bottled. So, French olive oils are made of pure fruit juice extracted by only mechanical means within a few hours after harvesting, at low temperature under 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They are not subjected to any heat or chemical treatment. The only accepted treatments are: sorting, washing, crushing, mixing to obtain a paste, extraction by pressing or other purely mechanical means, centrifugation, and decantation. They have a very low level of acidity (percentage of free oleic acids content per weight). In Huile d’Olive Vierge Extra, it always has to be inferior to 0,8%. And in most very good oils this acidity level goes down to under 0,2 to 0,5%. This very important factor, and the total absence of organoleptic defects, contributes to their smoothness and fruitiness. Most of the time, the olives are harvested by hand, which preserves their structural integrity and original characteristics. They fall on nets or plastic tarps placed on the ground under the trees. Nowadays, a few growers use mechanical harvesting means, but more often in larger groves. And when a year turns bad, for climate or infestation-based reasons, some small traditional producers prefer not to extract oil at all from their olives. One reason for the high price of French Extra Virgin olive oils, especially the AOC is the need to use between 5 and 7 kilos of olives to obtain one liter of oil. And the mills still crushing olives through granite wheels and using traditional presses rather than more modern, efficient and productive centrifugation-based systems, need to be even more selective in their mostly hand-picking of adequate olives with a low water content. Besides, in French stores most of the time you will find only Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, and sometimes “Virgin” (a blend of extra-virgin oils with a higher level of acidity but less than 2%). But no so-called “pure”, “refined”, or ”light” olive oils that you find in American stores. These inferior oils are in fact blends of various low-quality olive oils containing very little extra-virgin oil, and a large percentage of refined oils, that most of the time have been chemically processed trough non-mechanical means, and heated. This is a big ‘’no-no’’ for connoisseurs and serious professionals. I will not elaborate on pomace olive oil (huile de grignons), produced from pulp, skin, and solid materials like broken pits, left after pressing or centrifugation, mixed with a little virgin olive oil, and processed with heat and solvents, that is often used in cheap restaurants offering Indian or Middle-Eastern cuisine. You should also know that nowadays, the label ‘’première pression à froid’’ (first cold pressing) does not mean much any more since no serious oil producer, especially in AOC zones would proceed with a ‘’second pressing’’, and in any case all bona fide Extra-Virgin oils are cold- pressed. Besides as said earlier, many modern oil mills do not use traditional hydraulic presses made of ‘’scourtins’’ (round discs) any more, but other types of mechanical and centrifugal extractors. So, in 2007, most of the time the label of an AOC French olive oil will bear that description: “ Huile d’olive de qualité supérieure obtenue directement des olives et uniquement par des procédés mécaniques’’ (Olive oil of a premium quality obtained directly from olives and only through mechanical process). You no longer will necessarily find the mention of ‘’first cold pressed’’ on the label. The essential info that you must find on the label, besides the name of the mill or the grower, are a geographical origin (Provence, Nimes, Nyons etc. or more simply ‘’Huile d’olive de France’’), the level of acidity , the year it was harvested or a date indicating when the oil will no longer be considered as fresh, the number of centiliters or milliliters contained in the bottle or the can, and the quality description mentioned earlier. On the label of some AOC oils, you might also see the following indications: ‘’fruité vert’’, ‘’fruité noir’’ or ‘’ fruité mûr’’, indicating that the type of aroma, specific flavor, and fruitiness of the oil comes from ‘’ripe black olives’’, ‘’ripe green olives’’ , or simply ripe olives that have reached a perfect level of maturity. Some of them might have been crushed and pressed a little longer than 24 hours after being harvested to increase precisely that ‘’mature’’ and extra-rich aroma and taste. Always keep in mind that the color of an olive is the result of its degree of maturity. They are no such things as varieties of green, purple, and black olives. They all start as green fruit.  

France’s production of olive oil is very limited, and it is concentrated in areas close to the Mediterranean Sea. 

  The fact that French olive oils are produced in small quantities partially explain their high price. France produces only 4,000 tons of olive oil per year, making it only the 15th producing country in the world. Per comparison, the largest one, Spain, produces 1,179,100 tons (43,3% of the world’s total production). Italy come second with 550,000 tons (20,2% of the world output). Greece, which is the largest consumer of olive oil per capita in the world, is in third place with 367,000 tons (13,5%) and Morocco 4th, with 280,000 tons (10.6%). Olive growers from Turkey, make an enormous marketing effort to promote their olive oil in the U.S (they have a beautiful store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago), are the 5th world producer with 120,000 tons (6,6%). The next largest producers in decreasing order of gross annual tonnage are Tunisia, Syria, Algeria, Portugal, Jordan, Argentina, Libya, Lebanon, and Croatia. Brazil intends to become a major producing country in the near future. As you can see, even though California’s production is expanding rapidly, the United States are not yet ranked among the top 15 producing countries. There are approximately 30,000 olive growers in France located in 12 départements : Alpes-maritimes, Alpes de Haute Provence, Var, Bouches du Rhône, Gard, Hérault, Aude, Pyrénées Orientales, Ardèche, Vaucluse, Drôme, Corse. But not all of them produce oil. A lot of their olives are either used as edible food, or in condiments and apetizers. The others are used to make commercial oil used in the soap and cosmetic industry. Except for a microscopic production of olive oil, used exclusively by the locals, in the tiny Island of RÉ, just off La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast, practically all the French “oliveraies” (olive groves), ‘’domaines et coopératives oléicoles” and “moulins” (olive growers, cooperatives, and privately-owned mills that process the oil) are in the south of France between the Italian and the Spanish borders, often a few miles off the Mediterranean coast. Two areas of production, the region of Nyons in the département of Drôme, and the Southern part of Ardèche, are a little farther north, about 50 km north-east and north-west of Avignon. Even though it is not yet recognized as an AOC, the region of Languedoc , including the areas of Minervois, where very good red and rosé wines are also produced, the area around Montpellier, and the Roussillon near the Spanish border, are other areas where very good and fruity extra-virgin oil producers can be found. The Minervois area is located north of Narbonne and East of Beziers, in Southern Languedoc. In fact, the whole Languedoc-Roussillon region is the 2nd largest producing area of olive oil representing 16% of the total French production.

Some of the best are produced in specific areas, and it shows on the label 

At this time, there are only 8 areas of production awarded the official AOC (Appellation d’origine Contrôlée) by the official French Institute of Registered Appellations of Origin (INAO). The 8th one, Huile d’Olive de Provence was officially recognized in March of 2007. And in 2008, a 9th AOC, Pays d’Oc, might be introduced But very good French extra-virgin olive oils can be produced or distributed without having an AOC label. The ‘’Huile d’olive de France’’ certificate granted by AFIDOL, the official French Association of producers of olives, olive oil, and olive-based products, is a guarantee that they are produced in France from exclusively French-grown olives, and according to strict standards. They are perfectly fine and some of them earn big prizes at the Concours Général Agricole de Paris, a very serious national show and competition for agri-food products. But for the AOC oils, the most prestigious competition, is the Concours des AOC, that is organized by AFIDOL in NYONS in May. According to AFIDOL, more than 220 mills extract olive oil in France, but only 75, for now, are certified as producing AOC-labeled oils. But many mills produce different qualities of oils: Some are Mono-varietal, some result from a mix of varieties of olives, sometimes from different French areas. Some bear the AOC label, some not, but it does not mean that the non AOC oil is not as good. Several of the mills mentioned here below produce both AOC and Non-AOC oils  

The 8 regions recognized as AOC are:

Nyons (and more particularly the area of Les Baronnies) in the département de la Drôme,

North of the Mont Ventoux, about 50 miles due north-east of Avignon. It was the first AOC officially recognized in 1994. The main variety of olives used there is the Tanche, that is pressed when it is very black, ripe to the point of having a wrinkled skin. They are well balanced, mild, and can be paired with practically every type of food. About 20 mills, coops, and private growers are producing good olive oils there but only 12 have the AOC ‘’huile d’olive de Nyons’’ label. One of the best is Moulin à huile DOZOL-AUTRAND. http://www.moulindozol.com/ (available in the U.S,) . It got the gold medal at the Nyons competition for this AOC in 2007. The Coopérative oleicole du Nyonsais www.coop-du-nyonsais.fr/olives , in Nyons, Le Vieux Moulin in Mirabel les Baronnies (not an AOC), Huilerie RICHARD http://www.huilerie.com/ , in Nyons, Moulin Jacques RAMADE (http://www.moulinramade.com/) in Nyons, Ferme de BLUYE in Plaisans, that obtain the silver medal at the Nyons competition this year. The Moulin de Haute Provence in Buis les Baronnies, are also very good producers. RICHARD, Cooperative oleicole du Nyonsais, and Le Vieux Moulin are available in the U.S.  

Vallée des Baux-de-Provence

This AOC, that was recognized in 1997, is located in the northeast part of the département des Bouches du Rhône, in a very pretty hilly area called ‘’Les Alpilles’’ ,near the charming medieval village of Les Baux. This zone of production uses a larger panel of varieties of olives: Salonenque, Aglandau, Grossane, and Verdale, are the most common, along sometimes with the Béruguette. Most of these oils are made from several (often 5) varieties of olives which give them complexity and richness. They can be herbal, or peppery, always ‘’sexy’’. Some of the best producers are: CASTELAS (owned by a provençal couple, the Hughes, who lived for many years in Arizona, in Les Baux http://www.castelas.fr/ Moulin Jean-Marie CORNILLE in Maussane-Les Alpillles http://www.moulin.cornille.com/ Both are available in the U.S. (see: Retail sources later) Other very good oils from that area are: Moulin Saint-Michel in Mouriès, http://www.moulinsaintmichel.com/ and Chateau d’Estoublon, that produces also very nice wines, http://www.estoublon.com/ in Fontvieille (available in the U.S.)  

Aix-en-Provence

This area is not exclusively centered around the beautiful city of AIX, in the département of Bouches-du-Rhône, but expand to villages and small towns such as La Fare les Oliviers, Eguilles, Miramas, Berre, Lançon de Provence, or Salon de Provence. The AOC was recognized in 1999. The main varieties of olives used in that area are the Salonenque, Aglandau, Verdale and Grossane, along with the Cayanne and the Bouteillan. Pretty close to Les Baux in taste and texture, but with a little more spice. Some of the best producers are: Moulin des Costes, in the charming village of Pélissanne. http://www.moulindescostes.com/ Château Virant, in Lançon de Provence http://www.chateauvirant.com/ Mas des Bories in Salon de Provence http://www.masdesbories.com/ (These 3 oils are available in the U.S) The oliveraie du Mas Mérici, in Berre, is another fine oil, but not available in the U.S.. Same for the oils from Moulin à huile de La Fare Les Oliviers in La Fare les Oliviers, and the Château Calissanne, that as far as know are not sold in the U.S.

Haute Provence

Recognized in 1999, this beautiful area is located along the Valley of the Durance River, Giono’s country, not far from the famous lavender fields, a little higher up. The main variety of olive there is the Aglandau. The oils are very sweet, floral and fruity, with a light touch of bitter almonds. I love them. One of the better known “moulin” is le Moulin de l’Olivette in Manosque http://pagesperso-orange.fr/moulinolivette , in the département of Alpes de Haute Provence, that you can sometimes find in the U.S.. It got a gold medal in Nyons in 2007. Another good one is le Moulin des Pénitents, in Les Mées, but I do not think it is available in the U.S.  

Nice

Recognized as an AOC in 2001, this small area is concentrated in the Département des Alpes Maritimes between Vence and Menton. The main variety of olive used is the Cailletier, a small olive harvested when it is quite ripe (black). The oils are very aromatic, almost pungent, but soft and with a low level of bitterness. Some of the better known Moulins are: Le Moulin de la Brague http://www.moulin-opio.com/ , in Opio, a very pleasant oil in a tin can widely available in the U.S, and ALZIARI, http://www.alziari.com/ in Nice a very old mill that also produces olive oils from other regions than Nice. Available in the U.S. Also André Giauffret, in Colomars, who got the gold medal in Paris in 2007. And let’s not forget the the Oliveraie de la Sirole, in Colomars, that obtained the silver medal in Nyons in 2007.  

Corse (Corsica)

This AOC, recognized in 2004, is comprised of 4 areas of productions in two regions, Corse du Nord and Corse du Sud, that use mostly the Sabine variety in the North and the Germaine in the South. But over the last 20 years several growers have been planting Picholine, the variety from the Nimes area, in the Eastern part of the Island. . I have to admit that I never tasted an oil from Corsica, and that I do not know much about them. From what I read, the Cooperative Oleicole de Balagne , in Corbara that got a gold medal at the Concours agricole in Paris in 2007 is quite good. José Rioli, in Cervione, who got the silver medal Also the oil from Patrick BARTOLI, in Olmetto, that obtain the gold medal in Nyons in 2007 for this AOC. Also the oil from MARQUILLIANI, in Aghione that obtain the silver medal at the same competition. I do not think that any of them are available in the US.  

Nimes (Yeah....)

This AOC area , label obtained in 2004, covers essentially the largest part of the département du Gard, from the Ardèche border, to Beaucaire along the Rhône River and from Anduze, at the foot of the Cévennes mountains to the Mediterranean coast. It also covers a small part of the North-Eastern area of the département de l’Hérault, close to Montpellier. The Gard is the second largest producing Département after Bouches du Rhône. The varieties of olives used are the delicious Picholine, (at least 70%), and in a much smaller proportion, the Négrette and the Noirette. Some of the best producers are: Le moulin de Villevieille in Villevieille (Coopérative oléicole de Sommières) This AOC is my personal favorite. it obtain the gold medal for this AOC in the Nyons Competition on 2007. Moulin à huile Paradis, from the Domaine du Moulin du Portal, in Martignargues. it is not an AOC but it won a gold medal in Paris in 2007 , as a Huile d’olive de France in the ‘’fruité mûr’’ category. Domaine de Pierredon, in Esterzagues. It obtain the gold medal in 2007 in Paris for this AOC. http://www.moulinpierredon.com/ Moulin des Ombres in Meynes. a very good AOC that obtained a gold medal in 2005 http://www.moulindesombres.com/ Moulin des Costières in ST. Gilles. another great AOC http://www.moulindescostieres.com/ Unfortunately, I do not know if any of them are available in the U.S.

Provence 
 
This AOC was recognized in March of 2007, and the first oils bearing this new label have been bottled in November of 2007. So it is too early to have an idea of any specific style they might have. The mills and cooperatives oléicoles for this new AOC are in fact located on several dozens of villages and townships in 7 départements: Alpes- de- Haute-Provence, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Var, Vaucluse, Gard (only 9 villages, though) , and Drôme (only one village).However I do not understand why the Gard and the Drôme, that do not belong to the Provence region, are part of this AOC. Besides many townships listed in the official document are already listed in 5 of the other AOC. And , since I do not have yet a list of the mills benefiting from the new AOC Provence label, I have no way to recommend any specific oil. I am glad though, that the Var and the Vaucluse are included since they have several good producers, that were not listed before since these two départements were not included in the first 6 AOC. I am thinking in particular of the Moulin à huile Gervasoni, in Aups (Var), that produces the very good oils of Eric Martin. They obtained two gold medals in Paris in 2007 in the Huile de France (fruité mûr and fruité vert) category. Also of the Moulin du Haut Jasson, in La Londe des Maures (Var) that obtained a silver medal in Paris in 2007 in the huile de France, fruité vert category. The Moulin à huile du Vieux Château, in Mérindol, (Vaucluse), is also very good and got a bronze medal in the Huile d’olive de France, fruité vert, in Paris. Now, as far as oils from other non AOC producing areas are concerned, let’s not forget what I said earlier: Very good or excellent extra-virgin olive oils that are not listed under an AOC label , but have at least a label ‘’Huile d’olive de France’’ certifying that they are made according to high standards from French grown olives exclusively, are produced by either individual growers and mills or ‘’coopératives oléicoles’’, in many parts of the Languedoc and Roussillon regions.
You can find their addresses and a description of their products in the ‘’annuaire’’ section of the AFIDOL (http://www.afidol.org/) the French trade organization. A few French non producing companies, that have very nice stores in Paris and other large cities, like ‘’A l’Olivier’’ (http://www.alolovier.com/ ), Huilerie Leblanc (http://www.huile-leblanc.com/ ), and OetCO (Oliviers et CO) (http://www.oliviersandco.com/ ), distribute and sell in their shops or on line very good olive oils from all over Europe, including France of Course. Some of their oils are sold in the U.S. OetCO has more than 50 stores in the world, including 11 in the United States. The company was created in 1996, by an authentic Provençal gentleman, by the name of Olivier Baussan, who also created the L’Occitane chain of provençal products. Its selection of French AOC oils is relatively small but excellent  


Where can you buy French olive oils in the United-States?

First a reminder: Do not be surprised by the high price of the French olive oil you will find in this country. As I said earlier, good quality French olive oil is very expensive, about 3 times more expensive than the Italian, and 5 times more expensive than the Spanish oil. But if it can comfort you, that same premium oil is also very expensive in France. A liter (100 cl or 33.6 fl.oz) of good Extra-virgin AOC will cost between 20 and 50 euros ( 29.00 to 73.00 dollars). So it is better to limit yourself to buying bottles, or even better tins, with a content of 16.8 fl.oz =half a litter or 50 cl.) So it is an oil that you will not buy for everyday use but rather to give that extra-fancy and tasty finish to a salad, or a pasta dish, to douse on a good goat cheese, or to add at the last minute on a broiled filet of halibut. And of course, in the summer time, it will be perfect with a buffala mozzarella and tomatoes salad (caprese), or in a good niçoise salad. A few drops will also enhance the taste of a fresh artichoke bottom, or grilled red peppers and zucchinis. And I love to rub some on a lamb chop, before grilling, or to mix it with some lemon juice and pour it over some taboulé, hummus, or smoked salmon.

1. In stores 

As mentioned earlier, your safest choice would be to buy it in one the OLIVIERS & CO stores (O&CO). Unfortunately, for the time being they have stores only in the following cities: New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, Newport Beach, and Short hills, NJ. You can also buy from them on line (http://www.oliviersandco.com/ ). But you will have to add the cost of shipping. They sell: Moulin Fortuné Arrizi, from Haute–Provence, 45.00 dollars for a 16.8 fl.oz (half a liter) La Cravenco, AOC from Les Baux-de-Provence, 41.00 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz Moulin Dozol-Autrand, AOC from Nyons, 42.00 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz or 24.00 dollars for 8.4 fl.oz ( 25.cl = ¼ of a liter ) Château Virant AOC from Aix-en-Provence 37.00 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz If you are lucky to live in a big city, you might find, like we have in Chicago, stores specializing in oils and vinegars. OIL AND VINEGAR (http://www.oilvinegar.com/ ) is a Dutch-owned company that has franchise shops in 11 countries, including the U.S (Chicago, Seattle, Missoula, Bozeman, Houston area, and Charlottesville) Or in large fancy food and grocery chains like Whole Foods and Wild Oats. But in Chicago, these stores have given the preference to Italian and Spanish oils.
KERMIT LYNCH in Berkeley, CA http://www.kermitlynch.com/ , the famous wine merchant who introduced lesser known but good wines from Languedoc and Provence to American wine drinkers , sells oilve oil from Moulin Jean-Marie Cornille 

2. On the web

The only potential problem is that you cannot be certain that the bottles they have in stock are from the most recent harvest (2006-2007), unless it is specified on their site. E-mail them to inquire and make sure. Otherwise do not buy. Several sites are worth exploring: WORLD HARVEST (http://www.worldsfood.com/) in Columbia, Missouri They sell: Château d’Estoublon, AOC Vallée des Baux-de- Provence 35.00 dollars for a tin container of 16.8 fl.oz Moulin Jean- Marie Cornille, AOC Vallée- des- Baux, from Maussane les Alpilles, 34.00 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz They also sell monovarietals (picholine or Grossane) from the same mill for 40.00 dollars Castelas, AOC Vallée des Baux-de-Provence, 35.00 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz (50 cl) Moulin de la Brague, an AOC Nice from Opio in the Alpes Maritimes 28.00 dollars for 16.8 fl. oz GOURMET.COM (http://www.igourmet.com/) They sell : Mas des Bories, a very good AOC Aix-En-Provence, 24.99 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz They also offer a monovarietal made from Aglandau for the same price. This oil is also sold in Milwaukee, WI at Larry’s Market , 8737 N. Deerwood Drive, Milwaukee WI, 53209 Tel: 800-355-9650 The reason is that Nico and Roxanne Derni, the owners of Mas des Bories, lived in Milwaukee for many years before Nico decided to go back to his native country, and bought the Mas. ZINGERMANS. COM (http://www.zingermans.com/) in Ann Arbor, Michigan They sell: Moulin Jean-Marie Cornille, AOC Vallée-des-Baux de Provence 35.00 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz and 65.00 dollars for a full liter. Castelas, AOC Vallée- des- Baux 35.00 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz Moulin Alziari, AOC Nice, 30.00 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz
Eric Martin, from the area of Tourtour, Var 55.00 dollars for a full liter FORMAGGIO KITCHEN, (http://www.formagiokitchen.com/) They sell: Château d’Estoublon, AOC de la Vallée des Baux. A pretty large panel of their oils ( AOC and monovarietals) ranging from 47.95 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz to 71.95 dollars for a full liter of AOC, and 89.95 dollars for a special bottle (50 ml) of Estoublon Couture, made from Picholine olives. Moulin Jean-Marie-Cornille, AOC Vallée-des-Baux de Provence, several sizes from 8.4 fl.oz to a full liter, from 19.95 dollars to 67.95 dollars CYBERCUCINA (http://www.cybercucina.com/ ) Tel: 800-796-0116 They sell: Le Moulin de la Brague, AOC Nice, Opio, 29.79 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz Château Virant, AOC Aix-en-Provence Life in Provence, a private label from the Nice area, 19.95 dollars for 16.9 fl.oz A l’Olivier, garlic and herbs infused olive oil in tin , 16.50 dollars for 8.3 fl.oz SHOPOLIVES.COM (http://www.shopolives.com/ ) They sell: An AOC from Aix-en- Provence (I could not read the exact brand) 20.87 dollars for 25 fl.oz (75 cl.) a real bargain if it is fresh... An extra-virgin from MarquOlive, that I believe come from the Nyons area for 9.56 dollars for 17 fl.oz. another bargain if it is fresh and good. But better inquire about it. And check the shipping price that might be as expensive as the oil... AMAZON.COM (http://www.amazon.com/ ) They sell: Castelas AOC Vallée-des-Baux 44.99 dollars for 25 fl.oz (75 cl) Moulin de la Brague , AOC Nice, huilerie d’OPIO, 29.99 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz (in tin) or in bottle. A l’Olivier, Extra-Virgin, 26.95 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz Huilerie J. Leblanc, Extra-Virgin, 31 dollars for 1 liter (32 fl.oz) and 19.00 dollars for 16.8fl.oz (500 ml) SUR LA TABLE (http://www.surlatable.com/) They sell : Castelas, AOC Vallée-des-Baux 34.95 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz A l’Olivier, Extra-Virgin 18.95 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz (in tin) ZABAR , New York , (http://www.zabars.com/ ) 800-697-6301 I was a little bit disappointed that this famous food emporium where I used to spend hours, offers only 2 brands of French Olive oil: They sell: The extra-virgin from A l’Olivier , 28.98 dollars for 750 ml (25 fl.oz) Castelas, unfiltered AOC, 21.98 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz
 
3. In Chicago

When I arrived in Chicago in January 1970, the only olive oil I could find when I was lucky was a decent but very boring Italian extra-virgin in funny plastic containers from Pompeian. Thirty eight years later, the choice of olive oils in grocery stores, supermarkets and specialty food stores or wine stores is very wide, and in a very large panel of geographical origins, and prices. We even have a few specialized stores that sell all kinds of fancy oils and vinegars, as well as ‘’gourmet” products using olive oils such as tapenades, spreads, condiments, flavored and infused oils etc. Some of the best ones are: OLD TOWN OLIVE OIL, 1520 North Wells St. Chicago, IL 60610. This a nice store that sells very good quality extra-virgin olive oils in bulk from various countries like Italy, Tunisia, Greece, Turkey , Australia, and Spain, as well as from California. But they do not sell yet French olive oil. They assured me they were working on it. You can taste samples. CITY OLIVE , 5408 N. Clark St. Chicago, IL 60640 Tel: 773-878-5408 http://www.cityolive.com/ The very pleasant and competent owner, Karen Rose has not only showed a lot of taste in furnishing and decorating her very seductive boutique at the heart of Andersonville, but she also was able to put together a very intelligent panel of olive oils, salts, and vinegars, as well as appetizers and condiments, from some of the best independent growers and producers of quality products from 3 continents. She knows her stuff and can expertly provide good advice to the neophyte as well as the “advanced gourmet or cook” . Besides, spending time in that store has a very relaxing effect and tasting the various oils, vinegars and salts, can stimulate the potential creative cook in you. As far as French olive oils are concerned, she sells: Moulin St. Michel, a beautiful AOC from the Vallée- des- Baux-de Provence Moulin de la Brague, Huilerie d’OPIO, AOC Nice 29.99 dollars for 50 cl (16.8 fl.oz) Castelas , AOC from la Vallée des Baux de Provence, 39.99 dollars for 50 cl. Coopérative du Nyonsais, AOC from Nyons 37.99 dollars for 16.8 Fl.oz And a very good oil from La Fare les Oliviers , in the Bouches du Rhône. She also sells some infused and flavored oils (basil, chili peppers, etc) from OLIVIERS AND CO, 39.99 dollars for 500.ml (16.8 fl.oz) Another store I like is :
OIL AND VINEGAR , (http://www.oilvinegar.com/) 82 Old Orchard Ct. Skokie, IL 60077 Tel : 847-763-1446 It is located in the Old Orchard (Westfield)Shopping Center in Skokie) This very nicely appointed store, that belongs to a Dutch group of franchise stores located in various parts of the world, is also offering olive oil in bulk from a few different producing countries like Greece, Italy, Spain, and France. The beautifully lit (from behind a glass panel) glass jars contain good quality extra-virgin oils. You can taste them, then buy a bottle of the size you prefer and have it filled with your olive oil of choice. When it is finished, bring it back to the store, and the pleasant staff will clean it for you and refill it. They have only one French Extra-virgin olive oil, but it is quite good, well balanced, fruity and mild. This ‘’huile d’Olive de France’’ is produced by l’OULIBO, (http://www.loulibo.com/) a coop located in BIZE, Aude, in the Minervois, a wine producing area of Languedoc north of Narbonne and east of Beziers. This luscious oil is made, by very traditional pressing means, from the delicious Lucques olives, when they reach the ‘’fruité noir’’ stage, as well as other olives like the Picholine, the Bouteillan, or the Aglandau. . A 25 cl (8.4 fl oz) bottle will cost you 3.50 dollars and the oil content itself 15.00 dollars. It is not cheap, but the advantage is to always buy a small quantity of fresh oil. Right now, the store is out of stock but it should be back in about a month.

That olive oil from L'OULIBO is alos sold by the bottle in places like TEA TOGETHER in New York City. FOX & OBEL , 455 East Illinois St. Chicago, IL 60611 Tel : 312-410-73-01 This really nice food emporium actually has quite a nice selection of olive oils that you can taste; They sell : Castelas, AOC Vallée des Baux de Provence, 38.99 dollars for 50 cl (16.8 fl.oz) Chateau Virant, AOC Aix-en-Provence 39.99 dollars for 50 cl or 22.99 dollars for 25 cl Le Vieux Moulin, an oil from the Nyons area, in Mirabel les Baronnies, 27.99 dollars for 50 cl (16.8 fl.oz) Domaine le Grand Servan, a good non- AOC, Provence oil from Tarascon in the Bouches-du-Rhône 21.99 dollars for 8.4 fl.oz SAM’S WINE & SPIRITS 1720 N. Macey St. Chicago, IL 60614 Tel : 312-664-4394 This huge wine store has a decent cheese and fancy food dept. They sell : Château Virant , AOC Aix-en-Provence in Lançon de Provence, 22.99 dollars for 25 cl Le Vieux Moulin, from Mirabel les Baronnies, 25.99 dollars for 50 cl. (16.8 fl.oz) TREASURE ISLANDS various addresses in the Chicago area They sell: Moulin de la Brague, huilerie d’Opio, AOC Nice 25.99 dollars for 50 cl. (16.8 fl.oz) Huilerie J. Leblanc Extra Virgin non-AOC 17.99 dollars for 50 cl. WHOLE FOODS various addresses in the Chicago area: Not a single French olive oil
 
My 5 personal choices:

CASTELAS, MOULIN JEAN-MARIE CORNILLE, MAS DES BORIES, MOULIN DE LA BRAGUE, CHATEAU VIRANT.

P.S :Dec 30, 2007: Stéphane, I opened the bottle of Chateau Virant AOC olive oil , from Aix-en-Provence, that you got me for Christmas and it was fresh and delicious. Thanks. I put a few drops on the remnants of this goat cheese that you bought , the ''Clochette'' and it improved its taste considerably. In fact this cheese proved to be quite interesting.

12 comments:

  1. Fabulous post! I just found your blog and will definitely be back. My first experience of French olive oil was Alziari in Nice. Living in Aix en Provence now, I have the opportunity now to explore some of the others you listed with more attention to detail. You've listed some of my favorites! Oliviers & Co. in St. Rèmy de Provence offers an olive oil and vinegar tasting "gratuit" where I take visiting friends for an introduction to the various special tastes of olive oil.

    Once again, great post!

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  2. Dear enthusiastic, or shall I say "carried away" Fork,

    Thank you for your kind comment, the first to appear after this particular posting on French olive oil.
    I envy you for being able to drive around the beautiful Provencal countryside in search of great and "fresh" olive oil to taste and buy.
    When I lived in Aix, for 3 years, many many moons ago, I did not have a car and I had to be satisfied with the "generic" oil that I would purchase at the Casino, place des tanneurs.
    I visited your beautiful blog and reading some of its segments brought back so many fond memories.
    Like yourself, I wrote about French Christmas dinner traditions, especially from Provence, on my blog a few months ago.
    All the best for 2008. Keep the good work.
    Alain

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  3. Alain,

    Marvelous post. Though it's not quite as glamorous as France, you are lucky to be living in the Chicago area, with access to a number of stores that sell good olive oil. I'd like to reference this post on my blog, iloveoliveoilblog.com. Good job. And Happy New Year!

    Costas

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  4. Dear Costas,
    Needless to say, I appreciated your comment on my post very much, especially since it comes from somebody who seems to have collected quite an amount of interesting info on the subject that we both are passionate about.
    I really enjoy your blog that I just discovered after having finished my own piece on French olive oil. I wanted to find out if other people from other countries living in the U.S. had researched the subject as much as I did.
    As a matter of fact, I use 100% Kalamata Extra Virgin Greek olive oil for my every day cooking. And I am a great fan of Greek cuisine, at least the one I find in Greek restaurants in Chicago, that I was told by some Greek people are even better that the ones in Athens. Even though I never travelled to Greece, I love that country and I hope to go there someday. I studied ancient Greek for 4 years in Highschool in France.
    Thank you again,(the little French flag was a nice touch), and keep the good work, I shall visit your blog again.
    Best regards,

    Alain Maes

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  5. Bonjour Alain,

    Thank you for mentionning our website in your post.

    I just wanted to let you know that our French EVOO is fresh from the latest harverst (less than 13 months maximum), and come directly from our Mill in Provence, you can read a complete review, on Costas's Blog:
    http://www.iloveoliveoilblog.com/2007/10/french-olive-oil.html

    We are expecting our "Nouvelle Cuvee" beginning of February.

    Thanks Again,

    Claude for ShopOlives.com

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  6. Thanks.
    Is the nouvelle cuvee coming out in February an AOC (From Aix?)and in the affirmative from what specific area of production, or, even better, from what producer or mill?

    Alain

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  7. Ah! I have finally finished one of the best pieces on olive oil I have seen, Alain. What an impressive amount of work you put into this. I love olive oil and have given good bottles as Christmas gifts. I am pretty sure I could find that Milwaukee market you talk about - it sounds familiar.

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  8. Thanks a lot Mimi, In impressed and fully appreciate your commnent since I did not expect anybody to read the whole thing... The owner of this marvelous "Oliveraie" of le Mas des Bories,Nico Derni, a Frenchman, used to be the chef-owner of a restaurant The Elm Grove Inn in Elm Grove a Western suburb of Milwaukee. He married a American woman, Roxanne, who worked for GE, and one day they decided to go back to the South of France and buy some kind of farming type of property. That is how they ended growing olives trees near Salon de Provence and producing that award-wining oil.
    They do most of the work by themselves, and seem very proud of their achievement even if they do not make much money out of it,
    I thought you would love this Wisconsin-French love story.
    I still enjoy reading your pieces a lot.
    All the best
    Alain

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  9. Anonymous6:31 AM

    hello guys,
    I'm reading your post from France, south of France... Montpellier, exactly, near you were on holidays. You said that you have really liked the olive oil from "l'olivette des garrigues", that's why I think I had to answer, because the man who produce this oil is a good friend of mine ! so, if you want to have his mail adress, just tell it on my mail : salamdam@hotmail.com
    thanks for your blog, I've taken a great pleasure to read it !
    damien

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  10. Anonymous5:03 PM

    This is a Great post guys.If you need bulk Gourmet Olives the do visit the link.

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  11. wonderful post about olive oil in France, I'm also writing a post about it on my blog and I will add a link to this post.

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  12. Bonjour Heidi, and Salut to your hubby from the Bouches du Rhone, if I interpreted correctly what I read about him on your nicely designed abd illustrated blog.
    Thanks for your nice comment.
    Obviously you are enjoying quite an exciting life in Macao. My son who lived in China for one year in the 1990's has a very pleasant memory of your area that he liked a lot when he visited.
    Where is your husband from?
    Myself I studied at the University of Aix en Provence for 3 years and I love real calissons.
    Your recipe for those cakes with pine nuts and olive oil sounds pretty good.
    Good luck.
    Alain

    ReplyDelete