Often when someone thinks of buying olive oil, their thoughts go to Italy or Greece, perhaps Spain. They don’t usually think of buying French olive oil.
However, it’s not a zero-sum game: you don’t need to limit yourself to one country or even one type of olive oil. In addition to those other wonderful sources, here are 4 reasons why you should add French olive oil to your shopping list.
1. An ideal climate and a guarantee of origin:
Olive trees are at their best in a Mediterranean climate. The regions of Provence and the South of France, where French olive production is located, are in the Mediterranean basin. So the French olive tree has access to an ideal climate to flourish.
Also, olive oil from France is made only from olives harvested in France. That seems obvious, but scandals around olive oils have shown that’s not always the case in other countries: It has been uncovered that olives are sometimes shipped in from sources outside the country of origin noted on the oil’s label. The oil from the other olives was found to be of lesser quality. It was blended with the original oil to lower production costs.
So with French olive oil, you know you have an ideal climate for production and a guarantee that what you’re buying is from France and not elsewhere.
2. French olive oil: A guarantee of production in France:
In buying French olive oil you’re guaranteed that the extraction of the oil was done in a French oil mill (and in the south of France, of course!).
So you have a double guarantee which can be summed up as follows:
Olive Oil from France = 100% French olives + a 100% French oil mill extraction.
3. “Terroirs” – A bridge between tradition and modernity:
Olive oil and olives from France are true local products, typical of the Mediterranean basin.
The French have twenty olive-producing sectors, spread over 13 departments, or administrative divisions. Each sector has its unique characteristics, not only in olive varietals used to make olive oil, but also in climate, geology, and know-how used to produce the olives destined to make oil.
These particularities which are linked to the land (climate, geology, etc) and to man (the know-how) are what make up the French notion of “terroir.”
All of these factors have an effect on the olive oils produced:
Terroir influences the flavor of the fruit (olives are a fruit). So all the factors of terroir influence the taste and aroma of the oil that is extracted from the fruit.
That’s why different olive oils have different flavors and aromas, depending on where they’re produced. Just as with wine, you can buy different olive oils from different countries or regions within the same country and yet have different flavor profiles. (all the more reason not to have just one olive oil at home!).
Olive oils from France are grouped into three main taste “families” or flavor profiles. Each one has very different taste characteristics.
–Subtle taste (ripe fruity or “fruité mûr“) – made from ripe olives, the olive oils of this family are extracted from fresh olives. They are generally sweet with aromas of fruits (dry, ripe), flowers, and accompanied by vegetal notes.
–Intense taste (fruity green or “fruité vert“) – extracted from fresh olives, harvested several days before full maturity when the olive’s color is turning from green to mauve. They can present light to medium bitterness. The taste notes are vegetal, herbaceous.
–Old-fashioned (matured or “à l’ancienne“) – Old-fashioned olive oils are made from matured olives. They do not have a fresh fruit character or a vegetal aroma. They come from olives which are stored and matured, under controlled conditions, for 4 to 8 days before extraction. They deliver notes of cocoa, mushroom, vanilla, and candied fruit. There is no bitterness.
4. French olive oil: small production, but high quality:
There are over 1000 varieties of olive trees in the world.
France has around one hundred of these varieties of olive trees. They’re cultivated between Nice and Perpignan, Marseille and Nyons.
Buying olive oil from France means choosing to support a small, local industry and all of its players. The French sector consists of 300 mills, 18,000 olive growers and farmers, and the many jobs linked to their activity.
France produces an average of 5,000 tonnes of olive oil per year, which is the total production of a lot of small producers.
But the French consumer buys an average of 110,000 tonnes of olive oil per year. So French production is minimal in the overall consumption of olive oil nationally.
That’s why the small producers have one objective: quality before quantity!
There is very little if any low-quality olive oil produced in France. Other countries with huge production have olive oils that vary from high to low quality. France, with its small production output, has chosen to keep the quality of its olive oil high; This choice is reflected in the price of French olive oil.
There are 8 French olive oil Protected Designations of Origin (called AOPs) as well as many mono-varietal oils (such as Picholine, Lucques, Olivière, Salonenque, etc.). So there is definitely a distinctly French olive oil production with its unique characteristics.
France’s choice to keep its olive oil production small yet high-quality is a guarantee that the consumer will get a locally made product of authentic origin.
The olive varietals in France are unique to the country. The influence of “terroir” creates unique flavor profiles not found elsewhere.
So although France is a minor player in world olive oil production, it still offers a wide choice of high-quality olive oil varieties to taste and discover. Hopefully, you’ll identify a favorite French olive oil for your home-cooking.
Wondering how to select the best French olive oil? In this blog post, you’ll find 3 criteria to guide you and addresses where you can buy French olive oil online…
Have you tried French olive oil? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below.
Images courtesy of Unsplash.com