Are you a fan of olives or olive oil?
Can I be perfectly honest with you? I don’t like olives. I’ve never been able to get on board with enjoying the taste of them. On the other hand, Justin loves olives. He’s always trying to get me to eat olives. When the two of us traveled to Italy, there were olives served with many meals, especially apertivo. Justin would taste one with absolute delight. He’d turn to me, “You have to try this one! It is so good!“
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I’d ask him, “Does it taste like an olive?”. Of course, I’d try one here and there and felt they all tasted pretty disgusting. Justin always looked a little shocked, a tiny bit amused, but mostly appalled that I couldn’t get on board the olive train.
So, you might be wondering what I’m doing at an olive oil mill in the South of France. As an excursion, I visited L’Oulibo during my barge cruise on the Canal du Midi. I do rather enjoy olive oil and I visited with an open mind. I was interested to learn more about olive oil production in the South of France, especially considering that it isn’t one of the more famous places for olive oil (like Spain, Italy, or Greece).
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About French Olive Oil
I didn’t know very much about the harvest of olives or the production of olive oil before this olive oil tour at L’Oulibo. I learned so much, so I’m excited to share my this information with you. First, green olives and black olives are the same fruit, coming from the same tree. It’s all about the harvest time. Green olives are generally picked in September, and black olives are picked later in November. For table olives, they must be picked by hand during harvest time.
Olive oil is only produced from the black olives. It is a 100% pure fruit juice with no additives or preservatives. Olive oil comes from inside the pit of the olive. At the L’Oulibo mill, they press 500 to 800 tons of olives annually, producing 75,000 to 120,000 liters of olive oil.
History of the Olive Tree
While you might not have heard much about olive oil in France, it’s a great part of their heritage, too. The history of the olive tree started 37,000 years ago in Greece. Olive trees grow quite well in the South of France near the Mediterranean, and have for the past 7000 years. 90% of the olive trees in the world are near the Mediterranean.
Olive trees are quite hardy. They’re resistant to drought, and their roots can extend as far as 6 meters into the ground in search of water. Olive trees produce fruit for at least 150 years or more, and there are olive trees that are over 1000 years old!
Olive Oil in France
The best olive oil in the world comes from Greece, Spain, Italy, and…France? You might not have heard about olive oil originating in the South of France. That’s because less than 1% of the world’s olives and olive oil comes from France. However, to stand out from the crowd, olive oil in France is the highest quality, cold extracted, extra virgin olive oil.
L’Oulibo preserves the heritage of the Languedoc’s oil production by using only traditional methods. You won’t find any industrial or highly mechanized farming or harvesting efforts here. At L’Oulibo cooperative, their olive oils are guaranteed French origin, extra virgin and cold pressed, resulting in the finest olive oils on the planet.
The Lucques Olive
The Lucques olive is unique and exclusive to the Languedoc region of France. It is known as “the green diamond” due to its distinct crescent shape. It’s rather mild on the palette and has notes of buttered avocado and fresh hazelnut. The Lucques olive is a favorite of French chefs, and you can appreciate it as a table olive (green or black) or for its olive oil.
In 2017, the Lucques du Languedoc olive received an award for the Protected Designation of Origin. It’s a prestigious seal of approval for consumers that guarantees the high quality of the Lucques olives at L’Oulibo cooperative. In fact, the L’Oulibo cooperative sells 450 tons of table olives per year, and they’re the biggest producer of Lucques olives in the world.
Olive and Olive Oil Tasting at L’Oulibo
Our canal cruise guide from the Athos barge, Matthieu, told us all about French olive oil in the region from the small olive grove just outside of L’Oulibo’s shop and tasting room. Naturally, if you aren’t traveling from a cruise and you’re interested in visiting L’Oulibo, you can still take an olive oil tour.
You can also visit L’Oulibo on your own without a tour. There are some plaques set up outside of the main building to read more about the olives. Once you walk inside, there’s a huge shop filled with all of their olive and olive oil products. There are some tastings inside the store too, so you can sample before you buy.
Sampling the Olives
There’s a small tasting area at the back of the store. We sat around the bar and Matthieu told us about three varieties of olives and three types of olive oil. Our small group had the opportunity to taste all of them.
Have you ever tried a fresh olive? I’ve only ever tried olives in brine and oil with various spices. As the olives at L’Oulibo are picked fresh, we had the chance to sample some fresh olives. First, we tried fresh Lucques olives. I have to admit that I actually liked the taste of fresh, green olives. Personally, I was shocked! The taste was much milder than that of a typical olive. We tried two other olives: another fresh one (that I also didn’t mind) and a black olive in brine (which I didn’t like at all). While I surprised myself to find that I do enjoy fresh Lucques olives, they aren’t exactly available at home in Canada. I’ll have to travel back to France to try them again.
Tasting Olive Oil in France
As for the French olive oil tasting, I was totally excited for that. While I don’t usually put oil directly into my mouth without some bread to accompany it, we tasted purely the oil on its own. It was much easier to spot the differences between olive oils without any other flavors getting in the way.
First, we tasted the Lucques olive oil, made from the Lucques olives. I really enjoyed this one. It was a little milder, much like the olives themselves. Next, we sampled Picholine olive oil. It was very strong, bitter, and actually made me cough! Apparently, this is fairly common because it is a stronger tasting oil, though it’s very rich in antioxidants. Last, we tried the Aglandau olive oil, famous for its “ardence”, a tingling feeling that you can get in the back of your throat after tasting it. It tasted sharp, peppery, and I definitely got that tingling sensation in my mouth.
Naturally, these intense flavors are more apparent when trying the olive oil on its own. The bitter and pungent notes tend to disappear when they’re used with other food. I’m pretty sure that most of us will only ever eat a small spoonful of oil on an olive oil tour!
Shopping for Olive Products
L’Oulibo has just about every olive, olive oil, or olive product you could dream about in their shop. You can buy fresh Lucques olives, cured jars of olives, bottles of olive oils, tapenade, and even soaps and bath products made with olive oil. I couldn’t help but bring home some bottles of olive oil. I wish I could have brought fresh olives, but they wouldn’t have survived out of the refrigerator for long. That will have to remain a treat for the next time I’m in France.
If you’re looking to try Lucques olives and you aren’t visiting France anytime soon, you can purchase jars of Lucques olives online. For the Canadians in the crowd, I was pretty surprised to discover that President’s Choice carries Lucques extra virgin olive oil as part of their black line of products. I do suggest that you travel to the South of France and buy these products fresh from the producer.
How to Visit L’Oulibo
Thinking about checking out the Oulibo cooperative? They are located in Bize-Minervois in the South of France. They’re open seven days a week, all year round, except for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. For more information on opening hours and guided tour times, please check out their official website. Looking to spend the night in olive country? Here are the best places to stay in Bize-Minervois.
If you’re sailing aboard the Athos barge on the Canal du Midi, I’m certain that an olive oil tour at L’Oulibo will be in your future. I highly recommend traveling slowly in the South of France on a luxury barge cruise. Read more about my voyage here. On the same day that we visited this olive cooperative, we also went to the hilltop village of Minerve and docked at the medieval town of Capestang.
Travel always brings wonderful surprises. It might even be something as simple as discovering that you actually enjoy eating olives. Regardless, the Oulibo cooperative is an excellent way to discover the traditions of French olive oil production, take an olive oil tour, and taste the finest olives and oil. Is France a producer of the best olive oil in the world? That’s up for you to decide, but I’d say it’s right up there with the best of the best.
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