Oil Du Smedra: French Olive Harvest
We just finished up with the olive harvest here at Le Catounet.
As promised, here's the full report. By the numbers, this year was
phenomenal – Brynn and I harvested 342.5 kilos on estate. Compare that
to 40 kilos in 2005, and 79 kilos last year! The rate is approximately
6.5kilos/liter, so we will be collecting almost 54 liters of olive oil!
The co-op we go to is the closest, most local. It's a third-generation
family run mill, and we've gone there since the first harvest in 2005.
Provence is scattered with "moulins" like this one, most of which
bottle an olive oil (under their own label, sometimes AOC) and also act
as a co-op for local farms/residents. Like last year, we took our
olives in at the Moulin de Eguilles (www.moulin-a-huile.net) to be pressed with other local olive farms. They were very pleased with the high quality of our olives.
The olive oil co-op works just like wine co-op, except, whereas co-op
wine is hardly better than plonk, olive oil quality can be exceedingly
high. Essentially, you bring your olives within 48 hours of picking
(any longer and quality will start to seriously decline; this is on
account of fermentation), although they really want it
under 24 hours. They have some general guidelines for the olives, most
of which are visible to the naked eye. In other words, they can
determine the quality just by looking at them. In reality, if you
really wanted to know the quality you'd need an analysis of oil/water
content, triglycerides, etc, but this is good enough for the general
pressing. You pay a small processing fee, and voila, that's it- they
tell you when you can come and pick up your oil. If you don't want your
oil, they will buy it from you and bottle it under their non-AOC
label. It's quite expensive I might add (here, about 8 euros for a
half liter; the AOC sells for almost twice that). The oil you get will
be .01 or .0001 % from you, there's no real way to tell. The oil is
usually a blend of about 5-15 different olive varieties (see their
website for the exact names), but 80% of that is made up of the main
native varieties-Saloneque and Angladau being the most common.
Our olives were harvested from 5 lots in 7 different days. Alone it
would have taken Brynn and me about 2 full weeks working alone, but we
had much help from friends and neighbors. The disproportionate yield
from the previous two years is mostly attributable to the health of the
olive trees. When we arrived in 2005, most
of the oliviers were dormant (lack of pruning and basic care) or sick
(mildew/fungus, black scale, leaf spot, etc). It's taken some time to
get them back up to speed.
The difference between last year and this year was the hours I put into
the trees mostly adhering to the free "conseil" of my friends Nico and
Roxanne (www.masdesbories.com). (Mas des Bories recently took home for the second year, first prize at LA County Fair’s
Olive Oil Competition.) The major points: I did a severe pruning,
aerated the soil, fertilized (mostly compost and ash), watered, and
sprayed for mildew and the olive fly. I followed an ecological program
with only one deviation - the olive fly spray, which was a moral
dilemma. There is more to say on this level, but I won't bore you.
I regret to say that we could have done a separate pressing with our
olives this year, but A) I didn't anticipate breaking the 300 kilo mark
(the minimum for a separate pressing) and B) I didn't plan the manning
appropriately. I would have needed 10 people for two 8 hour days and a
lot more equipment since all of the olives need to be harvested and
submitted within a 48 hour period. Naturally, we would have been much more proud to have our own olive oil....
Nonetheless, the quality from the general pressing is high and I'm
equally proud to share it. I'd like to think our olives helped make it
better. Besides, I say, not bad for an amateur olive farmer's second