In the European context the Provence is a small but high quality producer of olive oil, olives and all the derivative products. In the areas around Nyons and les Alpilles olive growing is a major agricultural activity. We have selected some of the well known oil mills, which have stores where retail clients are welcome. So don't hesitate to visit a mill's store even if you plan just to buy a bottle of olive oil, some tapenade or olive soap to take back home.
Olive trees need to be tended around the year. The blooming season starts in mid April until end of June, when the tiny green olives start to evolve. The harvest begins in November and can last until January, depending on the weather and region. Olive trees need dry weather, especially during the blooming season.
Reading the Label
The less acid an oil contains, the higher the quality. Oleic acid (in French: l'acide oléique) is normally classified from 0.5 to 4 percent. Today olive oils are chosen by professional tasters who judge the bouquet, texture and flavour, just like wine.
Huile d'olive extra verge: extra virgin olive oil is from the first cold press and can have up to 1 percent oleic acid, normally around 0.5 percent.
Huile d'olive vierge or fine vierge: fine olive oil from the first cold press, can have up to 2 percent oleic acid.
Huile d'olive vierge courante: semi-fine virgin olive oil, normally from a second cold press, can have up to 3.3 percent oleic acid, a good oil for everyday use.
How to taste Olive Oil
Similar to wine olive oil tasting has its certain rituals, here is how it goes:
- Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small cup, shake it a little bit, warm the cup in your hands to increase the temperature.
- Lift the glass to your nose and smell the aroma; give it a couple of tries breathing in between away from the oil. Extra virgin olive oil has an aroma which differs from variety to variety.
- Take a small sip and roll the olive oil around in your mouth for 10 - 15 seconds. The oil must reach all parts of your mouth so that you can experience the taste from the front and the back of your mouth. Similar to wine, extra virgin olive oil has a beginning taste, a mid-pallate taste, and a finish. Spit it out (if inside into a spittoon please). There should be no aftertaste; if there is the olive oil is not of high quality.
- Between tastings drink some water to cleanse your palate and eat a small piece of bread.
Facts about Olive Oil
You need roughly 100 kg olives to produce 20 - 25 liters of extra virgin olive oil from the first pressing. Depending on the olive variety, the region and the weather, the harvest can start in November and last until the end of January. Harvesting olives is very tedious and contributes to about half the cost of producing olive oil. There are various methods, the oldest one being hand-picking olives. More efficient techniques use hand-rakes and electric mini-shakers, to strip the olives off the branches. They fall on the ground where nets have been placed. There are many other olive harvesting methods used around the world, but the electric mini-shaker is the most widley used in France, where olive growing is mostly done by small and medium sized producers.
Virgin olive oil is healthy, it has a high content of "good fats" and phenols. "Virgin olive oil is more than fat because it is a real juice with other healthy micronutrients. The intake of food high in phenols compounds could improve cardiovascular health and protect the heart", according to a 2005 BBC report, read the full article here.
Tapenade is a popular spread made with black olives, capers, anchovies, fresh basil, olive oil, garlic and coarse salt. It is served as an appetizer on a toasted bread.
Anchoiade is very popular in the Provence. But this is a spread made from salted anchovies and garlic; normally no olives are used here, just olive oil. It is served the same way as the tapenade.
You will find a number of health and beauty products based on olive oil, including the well known olive soap, a product used since the 8th century in the Provence (only by those who could afford it, we suppose).
All stores in our listing have been checked out by our editorial staff or collaborators. Our listings are free of charge and we welcome to get your feedback.
Nyons - Drôme Provençal
Nyons is the gateway to les Baronnies, the rugged area of the Pre-Alpes to the North and East. The valleys are sheltered from the Mistral wind and ideal for olive growing. Nyons is located 16km North of Vaison la Romaine. The Nyons region prides itself of producing one of the best olive oils in France. The 250.000 olive trees in this region produce an average of 400 tons of olives de table (for eating) and 200 tons of olive oil per year. There are about 1000 growers and 6 oil mills in the region. The olive oil carries the label AOC Nyons (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) and is made from the Tanche olive, a sturdy variety unique to this area. They have large pits, a sweet meaty flavor and lack bitterness. The skin of Tanche olives is wrinkled, because they are harvested in December, after the ripe olives have begun to shrivel a bit with the cold. The oil from the Tanche olive has a slightly nutty flavor, an excellent choice for the hearty Provençal cuisine.
Coopérative Agricole du Nyonsais in Nyons. In the Cooperative's shop you find everything around olives and olive oil, as well as Tapenades, Anchoiades, local wine, honey and jams. They sell olive soap - wonderful for the skin - during the summer. The Cooperative's other store is located in les Pilles, 6km further North. Next to the Nyons shop is the olive oil museum (open from June - October); interesting for those who want to know everything about olive oil production from the 17th century to today. The store and museum are located on the roundabout on Rt. D94 to Orange. (Place Olivier de Serres, Nyons, Tel: 04 75 26 95 00)
Huilerie Richard, in Nyons on Rt.D94 to Orange (at the SuperU roundabout); this is their retail store; their main office is 60km further North near Crest. Nice selection of olive oils, vinegars, tapenades and other products around the olive. A bit difficult to find; they are located behind La Grihete, a local micro brewery. (Huilerie M. J. Richard, 69 Av. Frederic Mistral, 26110 Nyons, Tel: 04 75 26 47 53
Moulin Dozol-Autrand in Nyons near the Pont Roman. Retail store of this highly regarded traditional producer, 14th generation is now in charge! (Moulin Dozol-Autrand, Le Pont Roman, 26110 Nyons, Tel: 04 75 26 02 52)
Moulin Ramade in Nyons, near the roundabout on Rt. D94 to Orange. A traditional producer, now managed by the founder's great-granddaughter. Small factory store selling the mill's olive oils, tapenades, cured vacuum packed olives and - their specialty - an olive oil shower gel! We like this store, small producer but very attentive. (Moulin Ramade, 7 Impasse du Moulin, 26110 Nyons, Tel: 04 75 26 08 18)
Vallée des Baux (Les Alpilles)
On the southern slopes of les Alpilles, the Vallée des Baux, is a major olive growing region. Sheltered by the mountains, the northeasterly Mistral blows less forceful here. The Vallée des Baux received in 1997 three AOC labels, "Huile d'Olive, de la Vallée des Baux de Provence", "Olives cassées de la Vallée des Baux-de-Provence",and "Olives noires de la Vallée des Baux de Provence". In this region a variety of olives are grown: the Salonenque, Grossane, Beruguette, Verdale and the Picholine. The olive oil is normally a blend of these varieties. Salonenque and Grossane are the most popular varities used here. The cold pressed olive oil from this region has a sweet very fruity taste with a lovely golden green color, ideal for salads and fish dishes.
Moulin Jean Marie Cornille, Maussane les Alpilles: Many master chefs say that this is simply the best olive oil mill in France. It is located in a 17th century building. If you visit this mill during November you can see the olive oil extraction according to old traditions. The oil is kept in vats, where the sediment settles naturally without any filtration. This method retains a maximum of natural flavours. Inside the mill is a wonderful retail store and right next to it - only a few meters separate you - the heavy granite mill stones crushing the olives. From the village center take Rt.D17 to Paradou, 100m before you exit the village turn right, there are signs leading you to the mill. (Rue Charloun Rieu, Maussane les Alpilles, Tel: 04 90 54 32 37)
Boutique Jean Martin, in Maussane les Alpilles, 100m before Moulin Jean Marie Cornille. This store has a good selection of olive oils, tapenades and other Provençal specialties. (9 - 10 Rue Charloun Rieu, Maussane les Alpilles, Tel: 04 90 54 34 63).
Beaumes de Venise
Similar to the olive oil from Maussane, the one from Beaumes de Venise is fruity and smooth; ideal for salads, vegetables, veal and fish. When young it has a slight taste of artichokes, when older it has a more pronounced fruity taste. Very highly regarded in France. Most olive growers here crush their olives in the local cooperative, which we list only reluctantly. The sales staffs' attitude ranges from inattentive to arrogant, a fact which has been confirmed by a number of readers.
Moulin à Huile de la Balméenne in Beaumes de Venise. The retail store is located right in the center of the village, near the main crossing. (Avenue Jules Ferry, Beaumes de Venise, Tel: 04 90 62 93 77)