La Tête dans Les Olives (the head in the olives) is a tiny store on a popular street in Paris. There you’ll find all the olive oils in flasks and bottles brought from Sicily by Cedric Casanova. It’s not just a store, it’s also a private restaurant that serves lunch. Cedric will give you a taste of his favorite Sicilian delicacies.
It started with the olive oil he enjoyed every summer during his family holidays. When summer ended they returned to France with dozens of litres to last the whole year. “My favorite aspect of the product was the kind of instinctive smile that it brought,” Cedric remembers.
In his teenage years, his passion for animals took him to the circus. He was discovered by Manuel Dos Santos, a man who was a master of the tightrope, who saw potential in Cedric’s sense of balance and offered to mentor him. That began thirteen years of traveling and performance, thirteen years where the body was thought to be, above all, an instrument used for work, and the pleasure of eating would come after.
When he turned 31, it was time for a change. New life plan: six months in Sicily and six in Argentina with his girlfriend. But these plans changed when his sister got pregnant and Cedric did not want to be this “uncle from America” (French expression for a distant, uninvolved relative) and also because he had been already traveling nonstop since his teenage years.
So he went to Sicily and brought back 100 kilos of olive oil to Paris, which was sold within just four days. From this came the idea of creating his own small business.
After all he knew the product very well, the people who produced it and he had a dual-perspective — the Sicilian’s view of an everyday staple and the Northern European’s discovery of something new. With this knowledge he could identify himself as a “passeur”.
“I had the desire to share the development with the olive oil producers from my region in Sicily. I told them: ‘We never have an idea of what we represent outside.’ I personally know both Sicilian and French palates. The understanding I have of the product on the Northern European market comes from this: I saw the French people’s reactions to the products that we brought back from Italy. For me it was normal but I recognized the product carried the strong values that it’s produced with… the value of the gesture and the emotional reaction that it brings.”
The market value was established quickly over the span of about 30 years. Today the effect of the generosity of spirit has been completely integrated.
“But I believe as long as you haven’t tasted the product,” he continued, “you hear about it, you collect datas but the only pertinent information is the one that your mouth will give you when you try the right product, it erases all the past and sets the scale of values. My own scale of value has been high from the start, I always got this notion of the right taste. People speak of my olive oils as if they are extraordinary but for me it is normal. Any olive oil should be like this. I believe this should be the norm.”
Cedric believes educating his customers is important, but not in a pompous manner. He didn’t open an unaffordable gourmet store. The olive oil has its price because of the small quantities produced but still affordable enough for everyday use as in Sicily.
After having sold in Paris the 100 kilos of the family friend Marco, he returned to Sicily where he met Leo who told him to come to the mill in order to see how it functions. “He said to me: ‘you are going to use the machines, you will quickly understand.’ Two months working with the machines was a tremendous learning experience, it is mechanical, not magic.”
Why is the oil extracted within 24 hours after harvesting?
We consider that the benefits of the oil are related to its resistance to oxidation, as time passes it oxidizes, and it is the same concept for the olive.
Olive oil that was improperly handled will oxidize faster. This oil will have less resistance to external factors. It is for this reason that we say it should be extracted within 24 hours. In fact, it is very difficult to do so during the harvest.
I am privileged in my area. Marco, Domenico, Anita, Paula, for all these people who belong to my region of Santa Paluta, we all call the mill and we grind the same day. 48 hours will still be ok.
The production involves mechanical extraction because the olive contains water and it is the only fruit that produces oil. That’s why we don’t need to use heat, mechanical processing is sufficient.
The machine then crushes the olives including the core to create a paste. I’m going to move the paste to warm it instead of using direct heat, as movement creates heat. I never let the paste reach a temperature above 27 degrees Celsius. After that, you throw your paste into a centrifuge and you’re gonna get a natural division between oil and water. I want my machine clean. I don’t want a bad odor such as that of gas.
To improve his technical knowledge, he’s done the harvest every year for the last 7 years. He believes it is essential to gain knowledge from practical experience and experimentation. ” All my work consists of collecting information, especially when the olive oil comes from a thousand-year-old tree or is made with olives rarely used to make oil.”
What he likes in olive oil is its length or intense aromatic persistence (IAP), one that has a bite to it. Olive oil is tasted in a small glass that you warm by holding in your hand. The best moment of the day is the morning when your taste buds are awakened.
“The life of olive oil begins when it comes out of the machine and ends when it’s no longer extra virgin, and when it becomes rancid. The natural cycle for olive oil would be a year: it’s produced in October so let’s say from December to December you’ve got a natural cycle.”
The last word? The secrets for a good olive oilare a good olive and a good machine. Above everything, “a good olive oilis made by a good person. It’s the conscience with which the earth and the trees are treated. It is not because he treats the olive with a special love or sings under the trees but rather from good work: it is easy to clean your house, it’s easy to work the land.”
“It means he will have made a product the way it should be. This is the most important thing according to me, that’s why it’s essential to give the producers the chance to create their own market.”
“Lastly I want to open a store in New York City, Cedric says, “because it is the closest to Paris and I have many clients who come from there to buy and eat at my store. Anthony Bourdain came here, he ate and shot his show in my place.”
La tête dans les olives
2 rue Sainte Marthe