Nestled between the mountains and the Mediterranean, the town of Menton is famous for two things — its microclimate (it is said to be three degrees warmer than the rest of the south of France), and its lemons. More recently, it has also been attracting attention as the home to France’s top restaurant, Mirazur.
The particularity of this (Taggiasca) olive is its alarmingly sweet, artichoke flavor.
The chef behind the coastal culinary gem is not French, in fact, but Argentinean. Over the past decade, Mauro Colagreco has been at the forefront of transforming his adopted hometown into a hot culinary destination. In 2017, he led Mirazur to fourth place on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Colagreco draws inspiration from local produce, neighboring mountains and local markets. Olive Oil Times spoke with the chef about how one specific local product has influenced his cooking and his career.
“Our local olive oil is a blessed product thanks to its stability, its richness and its delicate flavor,” Colagreco said.
Mirazur uses Taggiasca olive oil from just over the Italian border a few miles from Menton. Colagreco said the oil’s mild flavor allows it to be combined with a variety of ingredients.
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“The particularity of this olive is its alarmingly sweet, artichoke flavor,” Colagreco told us, adding that it is pressed when it is mature, not green which he said contributes to its unique taste.
Working with a local olive oil miller, l’Huillerie St. Michel, Colagreco flavors some of the Taggiasca oil to complement his dishes — like an oil with Menton lemon and ginger he created to finish a prawn carpaccio with green apple and lemon purée.
In business together since 2009, Colagreco and Karim Djekhar, the owner of l’Hullierie St. Michel, produce a line of infused olive oils with flavors including tangerine, pink peppercorn and of course, Menton lemon.
Their oils are infused using the same technique as nearby perfumeries.
“We infuse the elements in cold olive oil and leave it to season for two or three months. In fact, the bottles of our olive oil have the shape of a perfume bottle,” said Colagreco.
The chef said he’s trying to capture a feeling as much as he is a flavor. He recalled childhood visits to his Italian grandmother’s house in Argentina.
“Every time we go to spend some time with her, she used to cook everything homemade,” he said. “She used to put bread on the table first because with eleven grandsons always starving she needed to find a way to get time to finish the meal.”
Today, Colagreco uses his grandmother’s recipe to create his own sharing bread on the menu at Mirazur. It was this bread that inspired him to create flavored olive oils to compliment it.
“It was a special moment, a ritual for the whole family and when everybody felt most at home,” he said. “I wanted a special olive oil to celebrate the sharing bread.”
For Colagreco, olive oil may be a gateway to memory, but he’s also looking to the future and new flavor combinations he can create with Djekhar and Huillerie St. Michel.
“We’re thinking about new products,” he said. “A spice maybe.”