French olive oil
19 20. Edition nationale
First broadcast date
Report in the south of France, while olive oil is experiencing a more and more important success.
Meeting of the members of an AOC, engaged in the examination of various oils.
Meet fans, including Olivier Baussan, who created the first shop where one can find thirty different oils from the Mediterranean.
Today, he owns fifty stores throughout the world and has convinced the Americans and the Japanese.
France 3 - Own production
Credits / Cast
- Cholet Jean Marc - Journalist
- Grimat Pierre - Participant
- Baussan Olivier - Participant
- France - South East - Mées
French olive oil
In many ways the olive tree epitomises Provencal culture. The area in which olive trees grow is one of the indicators defining the Mediterranean ecological region. As elsewhere in the Mediterranean, the olive tree is present in every farming landscape and olive oil is a vital ingredient in Mediterranean cooking. Having reached a high-point in the 19th century, though, the cultivation of the olive tree has now declined enormously in France, faced with competition from peanut and sunflower oils, imports from other major European producers (Greece, Italy, Spain), the expansion of vineyards and successive waves of cold winters. The late frost in the winter of 1956 killed many provencal olive groves, destroying six million olive trees. The groves which are the focus of this report are thus either regenerated or replanted after 1956, but provencal groves have not come back to their former glory (50,000 hectares / 123,552 acres in 1950).
Nonetheless since the 1980's the cultivation of the olive tree has been growing fast due to the increased use of olive oil, even among those in France who did not use it before, thanks to fashion (gastronomy) and diet (the famous "Cretan, or Mediterranean diet")
Because of this, the price of olive oil has risen enormously, reaching particular highs if it comes from a particular place, since the system of Controlled Origin (AOC) now applies to olive oil: oilive oil from Nyons (since 1994), from Les Baux (since 1997), from Aix-en-Provence and Upper Provence (since 1999) and Nice (since 2001), and, most recently oil labelled "Olive Oil from Provence".
This report focusses on the methods of cultivation in the valley of Les Baux: domains which were given an AOC label on one side and, on the other, domains which compensate for the youth of their groves by a greater density of trees and which cultivate different kinds and qualities of olive – whereas on the AOC land only the local variety may be cultivated and the density has to be less. It isn't the place that gives the oil greater value but the quality of the olives, and in Provence several different species are found (picholine, aglandau, lucques, salonenque, verdale, tanche). But since certain areas have specialised in the production of one particular kind of olive, the AOC now does apply to a particular area. The methods of cultivation, the size, the ways of harvesting (with a comb or mechanised) and above all the method of pressing the olives are what distinguish different qualities of olive oil.
In Provence there are about 20,000 hectares (49,421 acres) of olive groves, that's about half the total in France, concentrated in four departments: Bouches-du-Rhône (the biggest producer), the Var, the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and the Vaucluse. The region has about 65% of French production (between 2,500 and 3,000 tons). Despite the recent infatuation for olive oil and the increased area of groves, we should emphasise that consumption in France remains much below that of other countries (20 times less, according to the journalist), production remains marginal in relation to Spain (about 43% of world production), Italy (20%) and Greece 13%. France imports nearly 95% of the oil it consummes. Which amongst also explains the difference in price.
Marie-Claire Amouretti et Georges Comet, L'Olivier en Provence, Aix-en-Provence, Édisud, 1974.
Élisabeth Scotto, Brigitte Forgeur, L'huile d'olive, Paris, Éditions du Chêne-Hachette, 1995.