Friday, October 14, 2016

Olive Growers in the South Welcome Rain

Olive trees may appear sturdy, but climate and healthy trees are vital for a successful harvest. The recent rain we’ve been having after a very long period of dry weather will hopefully save this year’s olive crops here in the south of France. Thankfully olive farmers in Provence did not suffer as much this year from the dreaded olive fly disease as
 Olive Oil Times reported two years ago.

The local and regional newspapers were full of gloom earlier this month. Headlines such as Droughts threaten Olive Production and “Exceptional Bad Weather will result in Poor Harvest” are far from inspiring, but optimists say that the change in weather conditions and a late harvest in mid- November might still save this year’s crops.

You can understand the frustration of olive growers. They’ve been carefully managing  their groves for the last six to seven months,( the growth and development period)  pruned the trees, cleaned and mowed the inter- rows but in the end, the weather can ruin so much. They all want their fruit to be the best quality, certainly not bruised or damaged because the flesh of fruit will determine the quality of the oil, not the skin. Olive trees like the fertile grounds in Provence but they thrive so much better producing more olives with a certain amount of rain. If the weather is too dry, the olive fruit doesn’t grow, and some olives will even dry up on the trees.

What the other ongoing danger olive growers everywhere have to face is the olive fly, one of the most dangerous insect pests. The olive fly is about the same size as an ant but can hit and devastate whole olive orchards. This is what happened in the south of France in 2014, a tough year for many owners. The female fly lays its eggs inside the fruit as it develops, totally invisible on the outside. Weather conditions were slightly different that year; temperatures were high in the spring, and the summer was relatively cool. No one wants fly damaged olives and olive oil. L Association Française de l'Olive (AFIDOL)the interprofessional association for olive oil in France devotes considerable time through practical sessions and workshops informing growers and producers on the best methods to deal with the bug.

Granted it's still early but we are all looking forward to a good healthy 2016 harvest.

Gilles and Brigitte Stalanq from Provence anxiously checking their olives 

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.