Synonymous with Provence, the olive tree is one element of life here that inspires us daily. The beauty of the olive trees makes me want to paint landscapes. The olive oil they produce is an elixir, a life blood for the Provencal people and not to be forgotten is the wood that is carved into all sorts of lovely objects. I treasure my olive wood chopping board (featured in our autumn parcel) and use it to slice saucisson at aperitif time or to serve cheese on. Decorative and practical, what’s not to love?
Olive trees are hardy things, withstanding dry soil, scorching hot sun and even cold. They often live for a hundred years and more. Only extreme cold will kill them. They symbolize peace stretching back to the Greeks; remember the expression “offering the olive branch”!
Like many people here, I buy olive oil in the supermarket for cooking but for salads and special dishes I use top quality olive oil bought from a limited supply locally. Sebastien Lezaud is my neighbors’ son and he lives in the idyllic hamlet of Janet. He is an olive oil hero who opened his mill in 2012. The back story is: in 1956 the olive trees in Provence were decimated by a cruel winter, many olive mills closed their doors, including the Lambesc mill. Sebastien took years to plant his olive groves and is rightly proud of his mill. It represents a Herculean effort and he has retained his integrity. Not for him making olive oil from imported Spanish olives though he could perhaps make more money that way. Even more endearing, Sebastien is full of joie de vivre. He has a ready smile, his relaxed and genuine welcome when we visited his mill put us completely at ease. He took time to explain the process and we enjoyed tasting the oil afterwards. It is peppery, really amazing, one of the best I have tasted.
On the day we arrived there had been a minor mishap. A young man doing work experience had accidentally spilt several liters of olive oil. What a waste! What a mess! What a crime against olives! Sebastien was phlegmatic, he was carefully mopping up and apologized for the floor being slippery. The young man in question wasn’t there but we heard that he’d forgotten to switch off the tap because he was preoccupied with his mobile phone. Quelle dommage!
“Mill” conjures up an image in my mind of a quaint building, perhaps a little decrepit, dusty and cluttered. The mill at Janet is the total opposite; it’s modern, has lots of gleaming stainless steel equipment and a floor you could safely eat your dinner off. Everything is pristine and hygienic. I am addicted to Sebastien’s olive oil and I do hope I don’t run out.
My Recipe for preserving olives:
It’s stretching it to call this a recipe as its so very simple but here goes! Last year I harvested a few olives in my garden. Unfortunately there were not enough to make oil. I only have a few trees and anyway it wasn’t a good year for olives in 2014. I put the olives – they were black not green as I harvested late – into glass jars with water and plenty of salt and a screw top lid. Each day for a week I skimmed the top of each jar, just a little scum needed cleaning off. Then I left the jars for a couple of months in a cool dark place. The resulting olives were pretty good and I am encouraged to try again this year. What’s more, 2015 is looking like an excellent year for olives.
Where to get Sebastien’s (one of our favorite) olive oils in Provence:
Moulin du Petit Janet
Route de Caireval
06 76 72 01 27
Post author: Rebecca Amer
Photography by Tarik Koivisto