It’s olive season!! Not here north of the Rhône, but south, YES! There, the olive oil mills are creaking open, those with olive trees are sitting at the edge of their chairs. Just waiting for the word. For it’s the mills that determine the appropriate moment to get out among the trees and shake, rattle, and rake.
Soon we’ll have “new” olive oil, with its characteristic burn that scratches the throat and fills the head with its ineffable flavor and grassy-green delight. This will last in the bottle for several months, until the oil matures and settles into a less vibrant peppery flavor, while retaining tis marvelous “green” flavor..
As for Olives
As for olives, soon we’ll see them fresh on the market, ready to be served as amuse-bouche, stirred into stews, pitted and folded into bread doughs. Some, like the Picholine, will be brined in saltwater with fresh fennel; others will have been tossed in sea salt and herbs. They have names like picholine, lucques, olives de Nyons ou tanche, grossane, salonenque. Lesser varieties include aglandau and cailletier, but we rarely see those up north. They each offer a different universe of flavor and, needless to say, it’s an exciting moment for the olive lover!
A Thing of Beauty in the Mouth
Of which I number. A good olive is a thing of beauty, tender in the mouth, bursting with all sorts of flavors that range from salty to that nearly indescribable “umami” flavor which hints at meat, or something of the earth.
I’ve witnessed the olive harvest in Provence, and it is something to see. Huge nets are placed under the trees, whose branches are literally “combed” with a special wooden rake. The olives fall into the net, which is folded and brought to huge wooden crates. The olives are deposited into the crates which are then stored so the olives can “ripen” before being pressed, usually a matter of days. Because there are many producers and few mills, growers must await their turn, an anxious moment as olives can overripen as they sit. The mills must make each pressing worthwhile, so sometimes they have to mix the olives from different growers, which means that over a certain quantity, the grower will get oil from their own olives; under a certain amount, the oil they get will be a blend from many different growers.
For fresh olives, these go into vats for processing.
We Wait for the Signs
Here in the north, we await the signs at the market which signal “olives fraiches,” and “l’huile nouvelle,” knowing there is nothing better to eat, in the olive world.
Try sautéing the olives as I do in the video – they offer an extraordinary wealth of flavor, and something just a bit different.