Notes from Panisse: Early Harvest and 'Fruite Noir'

New York olive oil merchant Steven Jenkins asks his friend in Provence about late harvest oils.

Dec. 1, 2016
By Olive Oil Times Staff

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My friend Bernard,

Why do so many French desire late har­vest oil? Surely they know it has so lit­tle effect on food or how few polyphe­nols reside within late har­vest olives — that with­out the high phe­nol count, the health ben­e­fit of olive oil is dimin­ished?

Is it only because this is the type of olive oil they and their fam­i­lies were raised on?

I can­not under­stand why any­one who loves olive oil would opt for a sweet oil from black olives unless they don’t know the joys of early-har­vest olive oil, that adult bit­ter­ness and spici­ness that is absent from later har­vests.

You said you have 8,500 trees? That’s a lot of trees!

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– Steven Jenkins



Dear Steven,

Yes, 8,500 olive trees! Added to the 5,200 AOC Provence” we have here around our old manor, it starts to mean some­thing.

Antoine had his trees planted two and a half years ago and they are now 6 feet high! This crop was the first one (nearly 30 tons and a bit more than 5,000 liters) and it is very promis­ing.

He chose the best vari­eties from Greece and Spain and we are anx­ious to see the result. We will test (and taste) the sam­ples tomor­row, hope­fully.

Antoine’s trees were some­thing like 40 cm high to start with in May 2014. They all had a 3‑meter high wood sup­port, tied to a metal wire taut from one end of the tree line to the other. This ensured that the wood sup­ports were not affected and tilted by our strong Mistral wind!

He did a tremen­dous job, for he con­stantly tied the grow­ing trees to the sup­port as soon as they were 10 cm higher.

In doing this, there was lit­tle per­tur­ba­tion due to the wind, and the trees were kind of com­pelled to grow higher than thicker.

It should be empha­sized that trees are planted every 1.5 meters, in lines, and that the har­vest is done by a huge engine very sim­i­lar to the ones used for grape har­vest­ing.

Last year the trees yielded 1.4 tons, I won­der what we’ll get next year!

The nice thing is that those cul­ti­vars give small olives that the olive fly does not like for her eggs. This is why the olives were so nice and fresh as no heavy treat­ment against the flies is nec­es­sary.

I’ll let you know our com­ment on this very new oil ASAP.

As for early har­vest, I under­stand that it is not so long ago now that peo­ple real­ized how much bet­ter it is for taste as well as for health.

Those who nowa­days pro­mote late har­vest from black olives, even some­times after win­ter frost, are not so many and may be fewer and fewer. I think it is still the case in the sur­round­ings of the city of Nyons, where you can find what is called Fruite Mur (Ripe Fruit). There are obvi­ously peo­ple who like what they call a soft” oil which, to me is, in fact, a flat olive oil.

As for our oils, They all are from an early har­vest, and I can’t agree more con­cern­ing the impor­tance low acid­ity level and high polyphe­nols.

But all this was not known by our par­ents and grand­par­ents. All they knew is that the longer you wait for the har­vest the more oil you get from the olives.

In doing so, you may get one liter of oil with every 4 kilos of olive (25 per­cent yield and higher). With green olives, you can get around 20 per­cent if you are lucky (this was the case with Antoine’s olives) or some­times less than 10 per­cent if you are not (as for most peo­ple in France this year). We some­times went down to 7 per­cent, only around Panisse!

Moreover, some decades ago, they were pick­ing the olives by hand or with wood poles and they did not get huge quan­ti­ties per day. I was told by an old guy that in the 50s they were still fill­ing large bas­kets with the olives and that those bas­kets were then stored in the din­ning room for sev­eral days until the quan­tity was big enough to jus­tify a cart to the mill!

He told me that the olives were then look­ing like a com­pact cake” that you throw under the mill wheel.

Oxidation of the olives was cer­tainly tremen­dous, and I can eas­ily imag­ine that the acid­ity was high and the polyphe­nol level low.

At the time, the taste of olive oil was of course very dif­fer­ent from a Fruite Vert. It is called today Gout a l’an­ci­enne (taste of old days).

With a team of 12 peo­ple and 7 active elec­tric combs,” we in Panisse can get up to 3 tons on a good day. Anyway, our olives of the day are taken to the mill every evening and processed dur­ing the night.

A large num­ber of peo­ple love the Gout a l’Ancienne taste wich is in fact what we get today with our Fruite Noir, also called Noir d’Olives. But the way it is made, away as far as pos­si­ble of air oxy­gen, ensures a low acid­ity and a nice polyphe­nol level.

First of all, Noir d’o­lives is an early har­vest made from green or pur­ple olives about to turn black. Instead of being processed on the very night, the olives are put in large (1 cubic meter) her­metic con­tain­ers, and placed in huge, tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled, rooms for around a week.

The tem­per­a­ture of the olives will rise to around 32°C and a fer­men­ta­tion will take place. After that, the olives are processed and it gives an olive oil with a stong taste of black olives, although made from green, or turn­ing ones.

We have more and more cus­tomers for this Noir d’Olives that is excel­lent with goat cheese, on sim­ple mashed pota­toes (it gives kind of truf­fle taste) and in every kind of rata­touilles (cooked sum­mer veg­eta­bles) or on fruits com­potes.

It is also nice on fish out from the oven. On cold dishes, I per­son­ally pre­fer either the AOC or the Picholine.

I may have been a bit long, sorry for the English, I am a bit out of prac­tice!


Chateu de Panisse
Petite route d’Arles
13150 Tarascon

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