Making Olive Oil in France the Ancestral Way

Millers in the rural town of Coudoux, France, are perpetuating the ancestral way of producing olive oil to offer a traditional product that tastes the same as it did a century ago.

Jan. 3, 2017
By Reda Atoui

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Millers in the rural town of Coudoux, France, are per­pet­u­at­ing the ances­tral way of pro­duc­ing olive oil and are adamant about doing so in order to be able to offer a high-qual­ity, tra­di­tional product.

A report that aired on TF1 takes us through the ances­tral way of pro­duc­ing olive oil in Southern France. Millers from Coudoux, Bouches-du-Rhone (located in the Provence region) are among the last ones who still pro­duce olive oil the way it was made many, many years ago.

The process starts with the con­trol of the olives brought by the nearby grow­ers. The olives are weighed and the miller checks their san­i­tary qual­i­ties. Then comes a period of rest for the olives. The miller takes them to the last floor of his cen­tury-old ten­e­ment; the olives will stay there for four to five days until they mature” to a sat­is­fy­ing level. This period of idle­ness is a sta­ple of an ances­tral way of mak­ing olive oil in Provence.

Soon the olives that are stocked on the last floor of the mill start to fill the space. Scents of thyme, almond, and wood fill the space. 

Green and black olives are mixed, which will even­tu­ally allow the miller to yield his dis­tinc­tive olive oil. The olives are ground with two, six-ton gran­ite wheels. 

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Way back, we used horses and don­keys to make the grinder spin around. Nowadays we use an elec­tric engine but the process remains essen­tially the same,” noted the miller. Olives that are stocked in the build­ing’s last floor come down through a tun­nel and land in the grinder, where they are crushed.”

The mill had to undergo struc­tural changes to meet the European Union stan­dards, but the recipe for mak­ing olive oil has remained the same. The olives, which are ground with their pits, become a paste that is spilled onto scourtins — sheets that used to be made of coconut fibers.

The scourtins of olive paste are stacked on top of each other and put in a press­ing machine that gen­er­ates 400 bars of pres­sure. The golden liq­uid even­tu­ally comes out and flows down into impres­sive vats. 

Hyacinthe, a mill worker, is assigned with the task of col­lect­ing the fresh oil; she is maneu­ver­ing a rather enor­mous tool known as a feuille, a long metal pipe which ends with a stove-like hol­low. This is a first decanta­tion which ensures water stays on the bot­tom of the vat. The oil, which is lighter, ascends towards the top of the vat,” she said, while gath­er­ing it with her quaint feuille. We want to make sure no water is present in our oil,” added a seem­ingly proud Hyacinthe.

The oil is then put in huge cylin­ders in which it will rest for seven weeks in order to be fil­tered nat­u­rally. That is what makes Coudoux’s olive oil so valu­able, the miller said, point­ing at the pre­cious liq­uid: What makes our oil so green is the ances­tral way we pro­duce it. Why? Because the oil has remained in con­tact with all the ele­ments that form olives: skin and pulp, for an extended period of time.”

The prod­uct is now fin­ished. The miller in his 100-year-old mill con­sid­ers the tra­di­tional way cru­cial if one truly wishes to expe­ri­ence the olive oil’s orig­i­nal taste.” The miller, along with his work­ers, can be seen at the end of the footage proudly drink­ing the oil they made.



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