What make s French olive grow­ers and pro­duc­ers dif­fer­ent than their coun­ter­parts in other coun­tries?

French grow­ers and pro­duc­ers can tell you — they pro­duce much less olive oil than their European neigh­bors and have very strin­gent pro­duc­tion and qual­ity stan­dards. They are, though, well aware of their renowned Provençal her­itage, their very own unique olive oil. French pro­duc­ers are cul­ti­vat­ing with patience, pas­sion and per­se­ver­ance.

And the results are bear­ing fruit.

France pro­duces around 5,000 tonnes of high qual­ity olive oil every year, 90 per­cent of which is extra vir­gin olive oil.  Most of the olive oil comes from small domaines in des­ig­nated regions; well defined geo­graphic areas in France reflect­ing very dis­tinc­tive tastes, char­ac­ter­is­tics and spec­i­fi­ca­tions nec­es­sary for the Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC)

Yet 95 per­cent of olive oil con­sump­tion in France comes from Spain.

Olive oil pro­duc­ers here know big is not bet­ter. Working with L’association Française Interprofessionelle, (AFIDOL) which helps them obtain the best qual­ity pos­si­ble under the AOC label, French olive oil pro­duc­ers are tak­ing their prod­uct out to con­sumers this Summer. The new com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­gram will edu­cate the pub­lic on all aspects of extra vir­gin olive oil from the Provence.

Jean-Benoît Hugues, the board sec­re­tary of AFIDOL, talked to Olive Oil Times.

Can you describe your role at AFIDOL?

I work for the Technical Commission at AFIDOL. I am involved in tech­niques of extrac­tion and grow­ing of olives – set­ting up a domaine, irri­ga­tion, prun­ing, cost analy­ses, ques­tions on dis­ease, choice of machin­ery, etc. I recently worked on set­ting up an organic mod­ule.

Are you work­ing on any par­tic­u­lar project at the moment?

Yes, we have finally real­ized that we in France have a prob­lem of noto­ri­ety. It took us a long time to real­ize that but we know that now and we are work­ing on improv­ing our mar­ket­ing meth­ods both in France and abroad. We are now con­cen­trat­ing on exports. This is excit­ing for us.

Catherine and Jean-Benoît Hugues

Do you have a par­tic­u­lar coun­try in mind?

At the moment we are look­ing closely at the United Kingdom. The British have a very pos­i­tive atti­tude to olive oil. What we need to is show them how to use French extra vir­gin olive oil. We have some great ideas which we are work­ing on.

AFIDOL is spend­ing a fair bit on adver­tis­ing in France. In your opin­ion what are the best meth­ods to pro­mote olive oil here?

We have about 150,000 euros to spend on adver­tis­ing. We are using the radio at the moment but I’m not con­vinced this is as effec­tive as pro­mo­tion through mag­a­zines and of course the inter­net, espe­cially with the blog food cul­ture catch­ing on with the young. What we need to do is talk more about usage and less talk about how bit­ter olive oil is, what it tastes like etc.

Of course we, as pas­sion­ate pro­duc­ers will talk about our fruity, green, fruity black etc, but con­sumers want to know what they can actu­ally do with the oil, this is what inter­ests them. After all, we pro­duc­ers are mak­ing the same type of oil with the aim of increas­ing pro­duc­tion and qual­ity. But, we need to include cus­tomers’ needs, look at qual­ity and costs.

With this in mind AFIDOL con­ducted mar­ket­ing sur­veys last year. At AFIDOL, we are and will con­tinue to link chefs and con­sumers — teach­ing con­sumers for exam­ple how they can marry olive oil from Nyons (AOC region) with sole fish.

What about the recent com­pe­ti­tion for trainee chefs in France? What was the aim and was it suc­cess­ful?

Absolutely pos­i­tive. This was a suc­cess­ful cam­paign, one of the best we’ve run so far but not based only on French olive oil; the aim was to train future chefs on how to use olive oil. Before we can steer peo­ple to using best qual­ity olive oil, we need to edu­cate, to teach them how to use olive oil.

How is Afidol address­ing the prob­lem of olive oil waste?

All mills are con­sid­ered as pol­lu­tants some more than oth­ers and must pay a tax based on how much they pol­lute. This tax will con­tribute to sen­si­ble treat­ment and purifi­ca­tion of waste.

AFIDOL has been look­ing at this sus­tain­able man­age­ment prob­lem for over ten years now, work­ing with the Agence de L’Eau. (State run water sup­plier and envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion) We pro­vide mill own­ers with a book­let offer­ing them good agri­cul­tural alter­na­tives. A lot depends on the size of the domaine and the option the owner chooses. In my domaine of 100 hectares for exam­ple, I find com­post­ing an effec­tive means of dis­pos­ing of olive husk waste but before I do that there is a heap of analy­ses to carry out.

Can you tell me about the Fruity Black olive oil from the Provence?

I had a prob­lem trans­lat­ing fruity black not so long ago. In the U.S fruity black does not have a very good con­no­ta­tion, I needed another word. Instead of using fruity black we will now use late har­vest olive oil, although it isn’t really late har­vest.

For late har­vest olive oil, the fruit is not any riper; if it’s too ripe it won’t fer­ment any more. We need to have some sort of green for fer­men­ta­tion to take place, best between green and pur­ple. This will cre­ate a defect but we keep it within the IOC scale, three out of ten. I must add that we use anaer­o­bic fer­men­ta­tion. The oil is now clas­si­fied as vir­gin olive oil, not extra vir­gin of course but you get a very strong taste of olive oil paste, a taste of black olive. What’s wrong with a lit­tle dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion? People love this.

What can you say on the future for AFIDOL and olive oil pro­duc­ers?

At present we pro­duc­ers both in France and abroad, are all in com­pe­ti­tion with each other – who’s mak­ing the most strin­gent, the most pep­pery olive oil etc. We must not lose sight on what is most impor­tant –a sen­sory pro­file, uses of olive oil and com­plex­ity. This is what AFIDOL hopes to achieve.

 

 


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