Last April at the New York International Olive Oil Competition the big winners were Italy and Spain, with 87 and 51 awards, respectively. France, with far fewer entries, won just five. The Arizzi family in the little village of Les Mées in Provence earned a highly-coveted gold medal and was thus named one of the “world’s best extra virgin olive oils.” Jean-Charles Arizzi and his mother Jeanne from Arizzi Mill (Moulin Arizzi) were delighted and honored with the results.
“Our oil competed among the best extra virgin olive oils from all over the world, scrutinized and judged by an international panel of experts,” Mr. Arizzi said. “Ours was the first French olive oil to receive a gold medal in the robust category.”
Les Mées is situated in the Haute Provence known principally for Aglandau, Picholine and Bouteillan varieties of olives. The Arizzi Mill today boasts 28 hectares and 8,000 olive trees.
But when Fortuné, Jean-Charles’s father, bought the land back in 1964, it was more or less in ruins with only two hectares of olive trees. No one was investing in olives because of the disastrous frosts which hit this region of Provence four years before, and it made little sense to invest in olives. Waiting five to seven years for the olives to produce oil did not seem to be a good idea at the time.
Fortuné Arizzi, however, recognized the exceptional terroir of the region and convinced his wife to invest in an olive orchard.
He had a plan to bring over an olive cultivar from his homeland in Italy and to cultivate on his new orchard, together with the local varieties Aglandau and Picholine.
He planted the trees, and processed and blended the oils.
“My father’s idea to blend the local varieties with Frantoio from Tuscany was a brilliant one. Frantoio gives a unique intense green color to our extra virgin,” said Mr. Arizzi.
Today he runs the family business producing its signature olive oil renowned for its specific tasting notes of artichoke, almonds and fresh cut grass.
Along with its unique blend Mr. Arizzi credits the good quality of the soil, an altitude of 450 metres and the exceptional micro climate of les Mées. At their estate, the Arizzi’s have bright sun and rocky soil, and they believe that harvesting by hand assures optimum quality.
He added: “what makes us different is our technique, the subtle blend of the two local varieties, Aglandau and Picholine, as well as a third variety of Italian origin. We are the only growers in the region cultivating this olive variety. We nurture our soil, making sure the trees are watered regularly, and we harvest only when the olives are very black. They must be ripe.”
Fortuné Arizzi started off using the traditional method of extracting oil. In 1988, he converted to the more modern and efficient centrifugal process.
Arizzi finished harvesting this year’s crop in early December. Due of the drop in temperatures between day and night which hit most of Provence this year during the flowering period, yields will be less than in previous years.
“Quantities might be down, but the quality at Moulin Arizzi will always be exceptional,” he enthused.
High quality extra virgin olive oil starts in the orchard, and preserving the environment today is a collective responsibility. The Arizzi’s recognize the importance of a holistic approach to olive farming.
“We have been respecting sustainable farming for 20 years now,” Mr. Arrizi said.
The Arizzi mill also makes an extra virgin olive oil with black truffle aroma now selling in several boutiques in France, including the prestigious Maison de la Truffle in Paris.
It has been a good year for the family-owned business. They not only triumphed at the world’s most important olive oil competition, gaining recognition for their superior blend, but Fairway Market, the renowned American gourmet retailer has sold out their first order from the Arizzis. More is on the way.
And at home, some 10,000 visitors wandered through the estate this year. Keen to share her passion for olive oil, Mrs. Arizzi has supervised a video for guests of the Moulin — a short film which informs and educates olive oil novices on olive oil culture.
2014 will be an important year for the family. Moulin Arizzi will be celebrating their fiftieth anniversary — fifty years since the inspired Fortuné made the decision to turn to olive farming. At Arizzi Mill they will maintain their tradition, continuing to inspire by sharing their olive oil culture, know-how and love for healthy extra virgin olive oil.