Thursday, September 8, 2016

Comptoir O Huiles: An Olive Oil Bar in Marseille 

  This venture is only one-year-old but the converted  old bakery is today a warm and enticing meeting place for lovers of extra virgin.

 On holiday in Marseille, the Parisian couple was curious by the sign “Comptoir O Huiles".  They simply had to go in, have a look and maybe buy some oil from Provence.  They hardly knew anything about olive oil but here in beautifully displayed rustic surroundings was a boutique with an extensive range of olive oils where the owner invited you to learn about the art of tasting olive oil: a place which served light authentic dishes from Provence all made with healthy extra virgin. They were captivated.

What better environment to learn about aromas and olive oil fruitiness?

Gaëlle Carougeau is the owner of Comptoir O Huiles situated in France’s second largest city. She runs her business with real professionalism. The young entrepreneur is an olive oil expert trained by AFIDOL, the French Interprofessional Association of Olive and also a member of the Afidol jury. This means that she is experienced in the different profile flavors of extra virgin olive oil; she knows the importance of the French term Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, ( the EU equivalent, the Appellation d'Origine Protégée)  

Gaëlle teaches novices how to smell and taste extra virgin, how to recognize the different flavors.  But not all her customers are novices. Some are knowledgeable; they already know about Provencal flavors; these clients are keen to discuss subtle flavors and how best to use them with different dishes.

 How does this connoisseur choose the oils for her boutique?

Gaëlle says aroma, terroir, harvesting methods and the date of harvest significantly influence her choice. About 80% of her oils come from the region, the rest she buys from producers in Italy and Crete.

Gaëlle says she gets enormous satisfaction from seeing customers seated around her “table d’hote’ sharing, learning and discussing Mediterranean cuisine, olive oil, and food -    all principles of the Mediterranean diet.   She says’ there’s nothing more rewarding than sharing your passion.’

The couple opted for a pasta dish, a Provençal specialty 'Pate a la Poutargeus' followed by a 'fondant au chocolat' made with extra virgin olive oil AOP from the Baux de Provence.
The verdict?

A superb experience, they said.
“We were shy and nervous to sip and slurp the oils as we started the tasting but Gaëlle is an excellent hostess, with an infectious laugh, and a talent for putting her guests at ease. You couldn’t ask for a better teacher.” 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Why We Should be Concerned About Olive Tree Diseases

Olive fly Bactrocera oleae and the bacteria Xylella fastidiosa are serious concerns for olive growers. Tearing down thousands of olive trees because of disease is devastating for the   environment.

 I recently talked to Fabienne Maestracci a talented olive grower from Bonifacio the southernmost tip of Corsica. We talked mostly about her winning both gold and silver medals for her harvesting of Corsican olive oils. Understandably, she was thrilled to win the awards but what I found alarming was the fear she expressed over the dreaded Xylella fastidiosa.   The disease was  spotted for  the first time near her orchard around this time last year causing   great concern in France’s Isle de la Beauté . Thankfully the infected plants were destroyed.  

 However, Fabienne feels that “the danger would always be there” and says  that more can  be done to control plants being imported. It seems Xyella fastidious came to Europe via an infected plant that came  from Costa Rica.

Olive growers already have the olive fly to worry about.  Known as Bactrocera oleae, the invasion takes place when the female olive fly lays its eggs in the fruit, just under the skin. The fruit rots fall to the ground prematurely and cannot be used.   Olive growers know that if they don’t adopt a reliable fruit control program they can easily lose all their fruit. To make matters worse, these last few years we’ve been having mild winters and humid summers ideal thriving conditions for the olive fly.

Xylella fastidiosa is different.  There  is no known remedy for this  plant bacteria classed as one of the most dangerous in the world. It attacks citrus fruits, olive trees, grape vines and a lot more plants. Although not dangerous to humans, once the disease is established, it starts infecting other plants. 

We first heard of the disease in Europe in 2013 when it caused widespread devastation in Southern  Italy then later in 2015 in France.  To combat the disease, Italian farmers had to chop down their olive trees; to prevent the disease from spreading they were forced  to destroy thousands of ancient olive trees.

If we keep doing that though  we'll have  an environmental problem. Although the  European Parliament is  doing its  best to keep the disease at bay,  this is a problem for everyone everywhere: for gardeners, horticulturists, as well as consumers of extra virgin olive oil. Lovers of exotic plants have to be more careful what they bring back into the country and also what they order on the internet.

As the International Olive Oil Council says “Given the natural capacity of olive trees to store atmospheric CO2 in the soil, our message could be ‘that olive oil is both healthy and good for the environment.'

Let’s try to  keep it that way.

Monday, July 20, 2015

What Visitors to Provence Really Want

It can be quite challenging having a constant flow of house guests in the summer here in Provence. Not that I don’t like having them around, but our visitors are quite international, of diverse ages, different backgrounds with varying likes and dislikes.  And because I want thumbs up votes from these friends and family when they leave I do my best to share this unique region of France.  I want to surprise them, to get them to change their tastes, to open up to new discoveries in Provence.

French Apéro is a the perfect opportunity to sample Mediterranean cuisine
Good Mediterranean food from Provence based on vegetables and olive oil never fails to impress but what guests really love is the ritual of l’apéritif in Provence; light snacks in  an  outdoor atmosphere,  social moments before dinner.  The aperitif or apéro is a relaxing time for sitting, enjoying and chitchatting especially after a day at the beach or visiting the sights –a magic moment in Provence.

What do they like to taste?
My favorite finger foods are served as dips or with toast;   all healthy, hearty and following the Mediterranean food plan:

Caviar de Tomates Séchées
Yes, there are many recipes to this exotic sounding spread but my own version is quite simple - a mix of sundried tomatoes, grilled red peppers, garlic, olive oil with a hint of lemon always goes down well.  

The olive and caper spread, a Provencal speciality is one of the easiest aperitifs to put together and serve.

Fluffy Accras
Codfish accras are a Caribbean speciality, one that I discovered while living in the French island Martinique. Crisp on the outside, cooked to perfection on the inside, this satisfying spicy snack is one of the most popular aperitifs in my house.

And to drink?
Everyone likes chilled rosé; crisp, dry and refreshing, nothing beats rosé wine from Provence to set the scene.

 Discovering the vineyards in Provence
They like the taste but so few know about the Côte de Provence, the largest appellation of the Provence wine region.  But most visitors to Provence are curious; they want to learn about terroir, winemaking and how to read the label on a bottle of wine. There’s no better way to discover the business of rosé wine than talking to the winemakers themselves and tasting the wine from Provence, France’s oldest wine region. And we are lucky, we have a   plethora of vineyards to choose from.

Like good hosts, we flutter around our guests, prepare lists, become anxious because we want them to have a good time. We don’t offer them perfection in Provence, we don’t promise fluffy towels and  white sheets but  what we like more than anything is to  share our knowledge of traditional , it’s the simple  things that make the difference.  And it works.