The French love to cook with olive oil and use it generously. One only need take a trip to southern France to see where their love of olive oil began. The Romans expanded into the region and planted and harvested olive trees. A hard freeze nearly wiped out the extensive crop of trees and many local farmers gave up harvesting olives and planted grapes in their place. What once was a thriving area for olives became an even more attractive place to grow grapes and the production of French olive oil decreased. As a result, they now concentrate on quality verses quantity whereas the Italians produce high volume, high quality and lesser quality olive oils. Italian and French people know and understand the health benefits of olive oil and consume copious amounts!
The surrounding Mediterranean countries produce more olives and olive oil by vast majorities and in many varieties. French chefs have always used different olive oils for various components of the dishes they prepare and specifically use oils from other countries to enhance their dishes depending upon the recipes. Italy is a natural choice for high quality olive oils since France and Italy share a southeastern border.
Italian olive oil tends to be more full-bodied, richer and darker than their French counterpart, but French olive oil can be very flavorful and pungent. I adore both and would like to share with you my favorites:
Le Chateau d’Estoublon is an extra virgin hand-picked, first pressed olive oil produced in France with no chemicals throughout the process. It is aged for a few months before being bottled and has a reputation of being very pungent which I think tames the odor of and compliments fish dishes. This olive oil is not for the faint of heart; the price can be upwards of $50 plus shipping when you order from the internet. I would say use sparingly, but I dare you to try not to pour it on everything.
My new favorite Italian olive oil comes from an unexpected place…right out of the pages of one of my favorite books - Under the Tuscan Sun. If you have read Frances Mayes’ book and/or have seen the great film based upon the book you will recognize the name Bramasole Olive Oil. Bramasole is the name of the house that Frances bought on a lark when her life turned upside down. She still owns Bramasole along with her husband Edward Mayes and together they are olive growers along with their other ventures. Edward wrote to me via my connection with the great chef Robin White and told me that their olive oil is produced from Frantoio, Moaraiolo, and Leccino olives from their own olive grove in Tuscany as well as the groves of their mill owner outside the city of Cortona. As with all their olive oils, none are produced with chemicals as lower grades of olive oil can be. They are all super fresh and super healthy!
Edward sent me samples of two different vintages. A large glass bottle filled with the harvest from 2011 which I was told had a nice bold taste that would last for another year, but it was best to use now. Of course! I ripped open the packaging and began tasting immediately! He also sent along a can of oil that was hand-picked in 2012 in the fall, but was air-shipped to the states in order for folks to try it immediately. Most people don’t realize how old the olive oil is when they pick it up off the grocery store shelves and what it means to the taste until they try a freshly pressed, extra virgin olive oil that has been packed and shipped to you within weeks. The taste is incredibly different! Much more robust and spicy than anything you could possibly imagine. The only way to get fresher olive oil is to fly to Tuscany and participate in the picking, processing and canning yourself!
I immediately began to cook with the 2011 bottle of Bramasole – using a generous amount to sauté my fresh zucchini and squash with onions and opened the canned 2012 to dip my fresh bread into while waiting for my meal to be complete. I added some fresh cracked pepper purely because I am in the habit of doing so, and immediately regretted doing it because it did not need any! But that portion did not last long and I was soon tasting more, raw and untainted. Wow! Super smooth and super rich tasting…I am officially hooked!
If you would like to purchase a picholine of the French Le Chateau d’Estoublon you can find it easily online and have it shipped to you quickly from the link I provided. If you would like to try some Bramasole, you should consider joining the Bramasole Olive Oil Convivium where you will receive air shipments of first press olive oil as a priority client. You can read more about this excellent option and order at: www.thetuscansun.com.
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