“Almond, Granny Smith, avocado, and a slight trace of pepper lingers in the throat”, says Mr. Thibault after smelling and tasting pure Lucques extra virgin olive oil. “This is the mildest one. The favourite around here is made from the Aglando olive variety: it is more intense and perfect to add on top of grilled vegetables or fish with only a bit of salt. It is the basis of the Mediterranean diet!”
We are tasting table olives and high-end olive oils crafted by l’Oulibo in Languedoc, Southern France. France is hardly significant as an olive oil producer, far behind Italy, Spain and Greece, accountable for 80% of the worldwide production. This is why it focuses on luxurious products: table olives of the finest kind and non-blended extra virgin oils. Such a refinement in aromas is reached, after a delicate, natural and secretive process we were lucky enough to catch sight of…
“French people like green table olives more than the black ones which are also used for olive oil, so we start harvesting in September” explains Mr. Thibault. Indeed, in September and October, olive trees are covered with green olives that will turn violet then black by November.
- Harvesting: The picking method of the table olives is very delicate: one by one every olive is carefully hand-picked and softly put in a basket to avoid any kind of bruises. A good picker will harvest only three trees per day, or about 80kg of olives. Starting in November, the black olives are picked. The best ones will be used as table olives, the others to produce olive oil.
- Sorting: Table olives are sorted out manually by highly trained operators to keep only the perfect ones, then a calibration machine classifies them by size.
- Processing: Have you tried tasting a fresh olive from the tree? It is a once in a lifetime experience: they are bitter and need to be treated according to a specific method. Between rinsing with water, stirring in an alkaline solution made of wood ashes, rinsing some more, and dipping in brine, every producer uses its own secret recipe. At L’Oulibo, they drench the olives in olivine, a concentrated alkaline solution for 8 to 12 hours. Then, the malolactic fermentation takes place at 4°C in the brine to keep the green colour and the crunchiness.
- Tasting: because top-notch varieties such as Lucques, the green diamond of Languedoc and Picholines are used, they don’t need to be spiced up with garlic, peppers or herbs so that their aromas can be fully enjoyed.
- Harvesting: not as delicate as for table olives, the harvesting can be done using a mechanical brush (about 20 trees per day) or vibrating machine (about 70 trees per day) letting the olives drop in a net underneath the tree.
- Sorting: the olives are separated from their branches and leaves.
- Crushing: respecting a 2200-year tradition, olives with their pits are crushed by millstones. A good olive producer knows its varieties and the rotating speed is adapted to every type of olive.
- Mixing: the obtained paste is mixed for 30 minutes to blend to micro-particles of oil and ease extraction under cold conditions, at 27°C. The white almond at the centre of the pit acts as a natural preservatives, so no additives are needed.
- Extracting the oil and separating: in the traditional method, the homogenized paste is put into flat basket stacked on press plates: the liquid phase is separated from the solids by squeezing them with a hydraulic press. It is then separated in a resting tank. In more modern methods, the paste is separated by centrifugal force at 3000RPM in a horizontal separator decanter.
- Recycling waste: The ground, the solid phase is then used as a compost. It is also sold to the cosmetic industry that will extract more oil using a chemical solvents.
We walk through the orchard, admiring the green and silver colour of the neatly pruned trees as the wind blows along the branches. Hand pruned by the same person each year as this person knows precisely which branches need to be pruned to have the sun rays and wind reach these branches to provide the wood from the damaging and illness spreading moist. The same wind which blew in May, fertilizing these trees carrying the pollen of the self-pollinated ones which were planted upwind.
We feel grateful for learning more about these beautiful trees from which every part is used, a beautiful gift from nature which is treated as a pearl here in at L’Oulibo in the heart of the Languedoc.
Marcella & Claire
- L’Oulibo is a short bike ride from the Canal du Midi, and is a nice visit to do if you are biking along or navigating on the waterway. Should you choose to bike it, its rather flat terrain makes it a long but easy ride, that is even easier starting from Toulouse. Click for all our article about the Canal du Midi!
- Passing through many villages and towns, finding accommodation or food is really easy, and biking its whole length doesn’t require much logistics.
- Sète and Toulouse are well connected by inter-city trains, so it makes it a good option to bike one way and ride the train back (this will take you about two hours).
- The Canal du Midi goes through the medieval city of Carcassonne that is definitely a must-visit.
- For an interesting article about another masterpiece of engineering, check out the Panama canal unlocked!
- Check out this interactive map (quick tutorial) for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!