Production

In Defense of 'Black Fruity'

The French association Afidol shed light on the misinterpreted taste of "black fruity" oil and the controversy behind the ancestral tradition of controlled fermentation.

Feb. 12, 2018
By Leila Makke

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On the occa­sion of the Parisian explo­ration of new oils held last month, Olio Nuovo Days, the French asso­ci­a­tion Afidol orga­nized a con­fer­ence on the theme “Black Fruity.”

The black fruity is our DNA, our his­tor­i­cal her­itage. It is the mother of all oils.- Olivier Nasles, Afidol

The con­fer­ence was led by Afidol pres­i­dent Olivier Nasles who dis­cussed the unpop­u­lar taste of the oil known in France as Fruité Noir and the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing its pro­duc­tion.

According to a 2008 European reg­u­la­tion, oils pro­duced from ripe olives shouldn’t hold the des­ig­na­tion ‘fruity’ as its def­i­n­i­tion doesn’t apply to the pro­duc­tion method used to obtain the clas­sic oil. Today, the term goût à l’ancienne (tra­di­tional) or olives mâturées (matured olives) are pre­ferred.

A black fruity virgin oil derives from an ances­tral tra­di­tion still main­tained to date in the Provence region of France, though it is also known to exist in other Mediterranean regions. The oil is obtained from olives vol­un­tar­ily fer­mented through a con­trolled and super­vised stor­age during four to eight days before extrac­tion.

For this process, olives must be of unques­tion­able qual­ity and notably undam­aged by the olive fly. The oil releases fla­vors of cacao, mush­room, vanilla, sour­dough bread or even candid fruits, and no bit­ter­ness is noted.

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The pur­pose of the fer­men­ta­tion is to lose the ini­tial ardence of the olive oil by break­ing veg­e­tal notes and, by doing so, to develop dif­fer­ent aromas that are milder, rounder and longer on the palate. However, its fusty flavor arouses con­tro­versy since fusti­ness is also a common defect caused by the unin­ten­tional fer­men­ta­tion that hap­pens when olives wait too long before being milled and begin to decom­pose.

“Taste has a reg­u­la­tory value. Olive oil is the only prod­uct world­wide that must pass before a panel test to be con­sid­ered edible. They are telling us that a his­tor­i­cal taste is not mar­ketable nor con­sum­able,” said Nasles, who believes that fusti­ness doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean defec­tive if it’s well con­trolled.

“Clearly, if the pro­ce­dure is unsu­per­vised, it pro­duces defec­tive oils but with today’s mod­ern­ized meth­ods, farm­ers can master the qual­ity of the oil,” said Nasles who said he has noted a “gen­eral mental block against the fusty taste.”

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Oliver Nasles presenting ‘Black Fruity’ oils at Olio Nuovo Days.

And the process didn’t orig­i­nate in France. “Black fruity is not a French typ­i­cal­ity, stor­ing olives in the mill is a Mediterranean tra­di­tion that began cen­turies ago,” Nasles said.

The pro­duc­tion method was wide­spread in the past, how­ever, with the imple­men­ta­tion of modern equip­ment in the 1970s, grow­ers started press­ing their olives ear­lier, thus pro­duc­ing the green fruity. As a result, and with the new European norms, con­trolled fer­men­ta­tion prior to olive press­ing was frowned upon and black fruity became a less wanted pro­duce.

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Refusing to con­form to a European uni­for­mity and to save a tra­di­tional know-how, the AOP Union and Afidol fought suc­cess­fully to val­i­date the pro­ce­dure.

“The pur­pose of this con­fer­ence is not to defend this par­tic­u­lar taste but rather to clar­ify any mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion around it and to under­line the dog­ma­tism of the panel test that suf­fo­cates some pro­duc­ers with their stan­dard­iza­tions,” said Nasles.

During the dis­cus­sions, four black fruity virgin oils were tasted by the audi­ence com­posed of inter­na­tional pro­duc­ers and experts. The oils pro­duced by the French mills Castelines, Moulin à Huile Margier and Le Carré des Huiles were either well received for their uncom­mon and par­tic­u­lar taste or cat­e­gor­i­cally rejected by those favor­ing a spe­cific flavor spec­trum.

“The black fruity is our DNA, our his­tor­i­cal her­itage. What upsets me is the gen­eral dis­dain for this ances­tral tra­di­tion which is the root of what is today known as the green fruity. It is the mother of all oils,” con­cluded Nasles.