The Olive Tree, the Olive, Olive Oil...
The European OLIVE TREE (Olea Europea) is an Oleaceae.
The culture of the olive tree goes back as far as 3,000 years BC where it can be traced to Palestine, Syria and Phoenicia, and Greece where this culture was most widely spread. It continued further to Egypt under the new empire, to Sicily, Sardinia and Italy, then to Provence, France. The culture of the olive tree can be found in all areas of the Mediterranean basin once occupied by the Roman Empire. Today nearly 2,000 different varieties of olive trees are cultivated around the world including around 100 different varieties in France.
The olive tree has evergreen foliage and needs plenty of light all year round to nourish its fruits. Its life span is
eternal due to its ability to regenerate naturally (through root shoots). Olive trees are extremely resistant to
droughts but suffer is there is an excess of water. The trees prefer a “poor” soil. Resistance to the cold is low.
Young trees less than 5 years old have difficulties surviving temperatures colder than - 8 °C and adult trees at
temperatures of - 12 °C and colder. The olive tree is therefore particularly well adapted to the Mediterranean
Olive trees can live in pots for long periods just about anywhere. They require little more than a well lit location
and protection against the cold during periods of harsh weather (less than - 5 °C). The upkeep of an olive tree is
a simple task for anybody.
FROM THE BLOSSOM TO THE OLIVE...
After effective pruning the new buds appear in April and flowering occurs up to June depending on the area. The clusters of white flowers blossom but only five flowers in a hundred will bear fruit: the olive.
The olive stone
For pollinated flowers the hardening of the olive stone starts in June. The flesh of the fruit called “drupe” becomes plump and fleshy.
The olive ripening
The olives are initially a young green this is followed by a period where the green begins to change turning first
to a pale green then a deeper green becoming a shade of violet in autumn and finally black in winter.
NB: all olives go through these colour phases from green to violet to black. There are no “green” olive trees or “black” olive trees.
“Saint Catherine's day, 25th November, marks the day when the oil is said to be in the fruit.” The longer the olive
matures the richer it becomes in oil. Harvesting of the olives for oil is done from November to February. Picking
is done by hand for all the lower branches and the upper branches are beaten with a pole to knock the olives onto
a sheet or net spread out under the tree. Olive picking involves a significant physical effort; an olive picker will
collect between 60 kg and 240 kg of olives per day!
NB: all picking is done by hand. The only non manual tool which is sometimes used is a vibrating rake to flutter
the branches and help collect the olives a little faster.
An olive tree in France produces between 5 kg and 50 kg per olives a year if it is correctly cultivated and depending
on the land, however a tree is only really productive every two years. An olive tree is a temperamental tree!
OLIVE OIL PRODUCTION
Olive oil is also a natural product due to the natural production methods employed: washing, grinding, pressing,
decantation and storage. In other words the olive is simply pressed and the juice (oil + vegetal water) is collected.
This is then separated and the process ends there. Olive oil is thus a 100% natural pure juice from the fruit.
The olives are sorted prior to washing to remove any leaves and twigs. There are already several “schools” of
washing techniques, some prefer using cold water and others hot (it mustn't be forgotten that picking is done
during the winter months of October, November, December and sometimes even in January and that the cold
impedes the extraction process).
• Grinding and Malaxation
The grinder crushes the olives (with the stones: the olive stone contains an antioxidant which is a natural
preservative). Grinding yields an unctuous paste which is then malaxed into a more consistent paste.
The malaxed paste is transported to a device called a decanter. The decanter serves to separate the solid phases
(flesh and nut, called olive cake) and the liquid phases (olive vegetal water and oil, called “black liquor”).
Centrifugation is used to separate the vegetal water from the oil. The oil yielded from centrifugation is virgin olive oil.
The olive oil is immediately stored in stainless steel tanks to avoid oxidation. Once the oil is bottled it should be kept in a cool place out of direct light and used within the following two years.
CLASSIFICATION OF OLIVE OILS
Extra Virgin Oil: olive oil with oleic acidity between 0 % and 0.8 %.
Virgin Oil: olive oil with oleic acidity between 0.8 % and 2 %.
FRUITY BLACK, FRUITY GREEN AND FRUITY RIPE...
Each harvest gives the olive oil its specific taste, colour and aroma creating a typical and original character for
the oil. The land, the picking period and techniques, and the know-how of the mill staff are all factors which play
a role in producing the different tastes in the oil.
The aromas of “fruity green” olive oils are dominated by herbaceous sensations producing the aromas of fresh
artichoke and green fruits. The structure of these oils can present a slight bitterness and/or peppery taste which
confirm the freshness of the olives at the moment of grinding.
The “fruity ripe” oils come from the olives harvested late in the season. These oils have aromas of almonds, yellow
and red fruits such as plums, tropical fruits, ripe apples and floral aromas. These oils are generally neither bitter
These oils are different from the above two in so far as they don't have the character of fresh fruits or the
These oils have a more mature sensation as they have gone through a period of controlled fermentation (e.g. storage
in an attic), followed by a grinding process along certain traditional practices. This operation yields fruity tangs of
cocoa, mushrooms, vanilla and glacé fruit that mask any bitterness. It sometimes has a slight peppery taste.
OLIVE OIL PRESERVATION
After leaving the mill (from around 15th November) the oil will mature quickly. Within the first two months its
secondary flavours become apparent. A “green” oil where the olives were ground immediately after picking
(without 2 or 3 days storage) will significantly change within 6 months. In general olive oil should be kept no
longer than two years.
We, however, love young oil. It is very fiery but it has an exceptional taste which marries perfectly with our
traditional sumptuous recipes such as salade frisée, aïoli, fresh pasta dishes, and pulses (chickpeas, lentils), etc.
Ideal preservation conditions
Olive oil should be stored in a cool place (between +15 °C and +18 °C) and away from direct light. Avoid
variations in temperature which will impair the taste. If the oil is stored at temperatures under 8°C it will congeal
and become cloudy. In average storage conditions its colour will become pale after a year and it will begin to lose
OLIVE OIL AND THE PROTECTED APPELLATION OF ORIGIN
(AOP: Appellation d'Origine Protégée)
The protected appellation of origin (AOP), better known in France as AOC, the guarantee of origin, refers to the
name of a product where the production, process and development must have taken place in a determined
geographical area using recognised and certified techniques.
AOP registration criteria are precise certifying a specific quality linked to the product origin and traditional method
Specifications are drawn up by the producers committee who register the dossier. The dossier comprises:
• the name (including the guarantee or indication of origin)
• the product description including the agricultural raw materials used and the main product characteristics
• the demarcation of the geographical area
• information proving that the product comes from the geographical area
• a description of how the product is obtained
• information justifying the link with the geographical origin
• references concerning the testing structure(s)
• information specific to the labelling related to AOP
OLIVE OIL IN EVERY DAY LIFE
In reality there is not an olive oil but olive oils. Similar to wine olive oil has its vintages; from chartreuse green to pale gold, olive oil may be mild or fruity, have a strong or light taste, a floral or herbaceous aroma, be smooth or fiery. There's a whole range of aromas, tastes and flavours which one has to learn to “play” with.
PERFECT MARRIAGES, from hors d'œuvre to the dessert
In a vinaigrette with an excellent old wine vinegar or lemon juice.
• dressing for green salads (endive, frisée, escarole, mesclum, etc.)
• dressing for mixed salads (salade niçoise, provençale salad with rice, mint taboulé, fresh pasta with basil)
In cold sauces
• aïoli (provençal garlic mayonnaise), rouille (garlic mayonnaise made with red chillies), etc.
• as an accompaniment to fish soups, bouillabaisse, aïoli, rock fish terrines, gambas (large Mediterranean prawn)
and grilled langoustine, etc.
For cooking sautéed and grilled fish
• “provençale” tuna fish steak, grilled red mullet, grilled sea bream with fennel, escalope of Saint-Pierre with
sorrel, salmon with endive fondue, sea bass grilled with herbs, etc.
For cooking shellfish
• langoustine tails sautéed in tapenade, escalope of Saint Jacques in a tomato and fennel fondue, etc.
• making shellfish sauces (sauce américaine), bisques, etc.
For cooking white meat and lamb
• fillet end of leg of veal braised in celery à l'italienne
• médaillon of veal in lemon and with olive oil
• saddle of young rabbit in rosemary pasta and basil
• knobs of lamb sautéed in garlic cream
• rack of lamb roasted with flowers of thyme, provençale gratin, etc.
For cooking Mediterranean vegetables
• ratatouille niçoise, provençale vegetables
• petals of tomato preserved in olive oil
• aubergines, courgettes, sautéed peppers
• gratins, flans, vegetable tians
• courgettes, stuffed custard marrow
• fennel compote, tomato fondue.
To bring out the flavour in raw vegetables
To bring out the flavour of steam cooked vegetables
• steamed potatoes
• broccoli, cauliflower
• artichokes, asparagus tips, etc.
To make an “instant marinade” to flavour grilled fish, sautéed shellfish or french fries
• red mullet, sole, grilled sea bass
• mussels, clams, scallops
To stop fresh pasta sticking and to give it an aroma
• add a little olive oil to the pasta and the cooking water, don't let the pasta cool
To make certain typical desserts
• cake aux olives
• Madeleine desserts
• apple crumble
In fact, olive oil marries harmoniously with garlic, the flower of thyme, savory, rosemary, basil, chives, etc.
OLIVE OIL AND HEALTH
Using virgin olive oil can help prevent cardio-vascular illnesses. It also has beneficial characteristics for digestion,
the intestines, bone development and protection against certain cancers. To benefit entirely from pleasures of
olive oil it should be enjoyed in combination with the Mediterranean diet.