Community Mills on The Rise in France

An ample harvest and high prices have led to a surge in activity and investments in community mills.

Moulin du Pré Conduit (Photo: Moli D'Oli)
By Ofeoritse Daibo
Feb. 13, 2024 23:40 UTC
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Moulin du Pré Conduit (Photo: Moli D'Oli)

People filled bas­kets with olives from October to December in the South of France, eager to turn them into fresh olive oil. Thousands gather out­side local olive mills in a cel­e­bra­tory atmos­phere.

It’s an annual tra­di­tion,” Alexandra Paris, the com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor at France Olive, a pro­duc­ers’ asso­ci­a­tion, told Olive Oil Times. It’s always been like that. Every year, inde­pen­dent cus­tomers, includ­ing fam­i­lies, who own olive trees go to olive mills.”

It can­not be denied that there has been a renais­sance of the olive oil sec­tor in France.- Alexander Paris, com­mu­ni­ca­tion direc­tor, France Olive

Among the mills is the 200-year-old Bargemon, man­aged by the Moli d’Oli asso­ci­a­tion. It hosted crowds of peo­ple who had har­vested olives from trees in their gar­dens and were eager to press their pre­cious cargo into green gold.

This har­vest sea­son has been extra­or­di­nary,” Catherine Pelissou, the association’s pres­i­dent, told Olive Oil Times. Normally, we press about 70 tons of olives, but this year, we pressed 106 tons, mak­ing 15,000 liters of olive oil, nearly dou­ble the amount we are used to.” 

See Also:Climate Change Leads Some Bordeaux Wine Producers to Plant Olives

While many pro­duc­ers with mod­ern disk or ham­mer mills use the term pressed’ to describe their olive oil pro­duc­tion process rather than crushed’ or trans­formed,’ the Bargemon still uses the tra­di­tional press­ing method.

Even mod­ern presses could not han­dle the demand,” Pelissou said. Those who could not get a place with them came to me. Not that there was a par­tic­u­lar pref­er­ence — they were look­ing for a place, mod­ern or not, to press their olives.”

The wait time for oil from a tra­di­tional press is much longer,” she added. It is seven hours for a press like mine and one hour for a mod­ern press.”

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The traditional olive press at Moli D’Oli is in demand. (Photo: Moli D’Oli)

While France’s bumper har­vest in the 2023/24 crop year, in which pro­duc­tion is expected to rise to 4,400 tons, may partly explain the increase in patrons at local mills, Pelissou believes it is also due to a cul­tural shift.

People have been highly moti­vated,” she said. First of all, they do it for the plea­sure and sat­is­fac­tion of own­ing their own olive oil. Some even sell the excess pro­duced, either through us or inde­pen­dently.” 

Second, peo­ple are becom­ing more con­scious about the qual­ity and trace­abil­ity of what they eat,” Pelissou added. Third, good olive oil is expen­sive. Supermarket prices are ris­ing, and here in Var, where olives grow nat­u­rally, peo­ple are begin­ning to learn more about cul­ti­va­tion and how to press their own oil.”

Pelissou hopes to take advan­tage of this unusual moment of a bumper har­vest paired with high prices in France to get more peo­ple involved with the sec­tor. 

She said the annual mem­ber­ship to the asso­ci­a­tion is €10 with an addi­tional charge of €0.50 to €0.60 per kilo­gram of olives milled, depend­ing on whether the patron brings more or less than 100 kilo­grams.

If the olives are green, it takes eight to nine kilo­grams of olives to make a liter of olive oil,” she said. The taste is usu­ally quite spicy for new olives. If the olives are older, it takes about four to five kilo­grams to make a liter of olive oil. The taste is softer than that of newer olives.”

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Despite the seven-hour wait, customers celebrate the transparency of the traditional mills. (Photo: Moli D’Oli)

We are seek­ing invest­ment into our mill and are hope­ful to receive com­mu­nity sup­port,” Pelissou added. Investment in olive cul­ti­va­tion is grow­ing in the region. For exam­ple, in Callas, a mill owned by the Bérenguier fam­ily for four gen­er­a­tions recently invested in more than 1,000 olive trees. They do this because of grow­ing demand.”

According to experts, peo­ple pre­fer to visit the mills for the trace­abil­ity and qual­ity of oil pro­duced com­pared to what they can find in super­mar­kets. 

However, now that olive oil prices at ori­gin have reached record highs, with prices as high as €30 per liter for locally-pro­duced extra vir­gin olive oil, it is unclear whether higher prices in super­mar­kets have impacted pref­er­ences to buy from the mills directly.

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Another asso­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent, Luc Poulain d’Andecy of Promolive, told local media that this har­vest sea­son, a liter of oil pro­duced at his Caveirac mill cost €3.50 for each of his mem­bers. An unbeat­able price,” he said.

Whether more peo­ple are going to olive oil mills now that olive oil prices are high isn’t clear since the data is still being col­lected,” Paris said. It can­not be denied that there has been a renais­sance of the olive oil sec­tor in France recently. However, what appears to be more notice­able is that more olive presses appear to be accept­ing olives to turn into olive oil.”

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While not all of them are traditional presses, mills are opening their doors in the south of France to meet growing demand. (Photo: Moli D’Oli)

There are indeed more olive oil presses than there were 15 years ago, and they have trans­formed the sec­tor,” she added.

Indeed, sev­eral new olive mills were cre­ated last year and appear to be thriv­ing. 

Mas Miger oil mill in Alès-Anduze launched in October 2023 and has already gained trac­tion. The three own­ers are invest­ing €350,000 in con­struct­ing a new 400 square-meter build­ing and €200,000 in a new pro­duc­tion line.

Meanwhile, Bernard Saïn estab­lished the only olive mill in Gironde in October 2023. His olive mill is the only one in the region” and has attracted peo­ple from Dordogne, Lot-et-Garonne and cas­tles who had planted them to look pretty and who, until now, watched the olives fall.”

Production of these olive oil mills is pri­mar­ily in the south­west of France,” Paris said. It’s not local­ized, how­ever. They are just pop­ping up, mush­room­ing across the region. Their num­bers have dou­bled, going from 105 in 1995 to 315 today. About 50 are run by co-ops, while the rest are pri­vately owned.”



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