` 150 Years Before the "Mediterranean Diet" - Olive Oil Times

150 Years Before the "Mediterranean Diet"

Apr. 6, 2010
Trafton Kenney

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France has long been rec­og­nized as the bread­bas­ket of Europe. The largest coun­try in the European Union, France, with its diverse geog­ra­phy and cli­mate — from the moun­tains of Mont Blanc and the Alps to the sun­nier climes of Nice and the Côte d’Azur — pro­duces such a dizzy­ing array of pro­duce, live­stock, and other gourmet prod­ucts as to make any gour­mand swoon.

While the over­cast north­ern half of the coun­try has long embraced but­ter as its cook­ing fat of choice, the bub­ble that is Provence is a dif­fer­ent story. With its Mediterranean sun­light and rocky ter­rain, the south of France is blessed with ideal ter­roir for mak­ing extra vir­gin olive oil.

Few olive oil pur­vey­ors are as well-regarded in France as La Maison A L’Olivier, which inter­est­ingly enough, started in Paris almost two cen­turies ago. Founded by a phar­ma­cist named M. Popelin, A L’Olivier opened its first bou­tique in the Marais in 1822 to sell olive oil and cod liver oil dur­ing the Bourbon Restoration.

Their flag­ship bou­tique has since broad­ened its selec­tion, offer­ing a wide vari­ety of gourmet goods like sar­dines from Rödel Fils & Frères (packed in olive oil, of course), prized fleur de sel imported from Madagascar, and an exotic pas­sion fruit vinai­grette. The com­pany has also expanded its out­reach, with nine loca­tions through­out France as well as out­posts in Belgium and Sweden.

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Despite their growth as a brand, the empha­sis has always remained on the olive oil, extra vir­gin to be exact. A tour through their orig­i­nal loca­tion in Paris reveals an impres­sive dis­play of more than fifty oils, sourced from Spain, Italy, Greece, as well as their native France.

Customers can pick up small drums of fla­vored oils, from basil to a zestier gin­ger and lemon, but the real liq­uid gold can be bought by the liter from their hand­some col­lec­tion of gleam­ing metal­lic drums — a col­lec­tion of mostly French oils, almost all ordained with the offi­cial stamp of ter­roir, the Apellation d’Origine Côntrolée (A.O.C.), a French cer­tifi­cate guar­an­tee­ing prove­nance and qual­ity reserved for wines and cheeses as well.

One of their finest prod­ucts is a Corsican extra vir­gin olive oil from Moulin de Prunete in Costa Verde: a pep­pery and grassy num­ber, made from a mix of Picholine, Ghjermana, and Leccino olives, that won the 2006 Gold Medal in Paris. Probably best paired with a piece of grilled fish or veg­eta­bles, it would also be ideal for a vinai­grette.

Another favorite, their Aix-en-Provence A.O.C. Moulin Barle Eguilles made mostly from Aglandau and Salonenque olives, as well as some Verdale, gar­nered sim­i­lar praise at the 2009 Concours General Agricole for its mel­low veg­e­tal fla­vor, espe­cially its notes of arti­choke.

Nearly two cen­turies’ worth of savoir-faire means A L’Olivier knows how to select the finest prod­ucts. From their pro­duc­tion site based in Carros, an area just north of Nice known for grow­ing some of the finest olives in France, their spe­cial­ists sam­ple oils from mills, inde­pen­dent pro­duc­ers, and coop­er­a­tives to decide what belongs on the shelves of their bou­tiques. The olive oils are then sent to Aulnay Sous Bois out­side of Paris to be dis­trib­uted through­out the world.

So while oper­a­tions have clearly expanded since the days Monsieur Popelin was behind the counter, and it might be tougher to find cod liver oil on the shelves of A L’Olivier today, it seems clear that their empha­sis on qual­ity has remained con­stant. After a long win­ter in Paris, who doesn’t need some Provençal sun­shine?

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