Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews
A limited edition oil from France’s “magic olive”
Back in 2005 I was over in the south of France, in the region of Provence, visiting the Castelas mill run by the husband-and-wife team Jean-Benoît and Catherine Hugue. They grow organically on their 45-hectare farm in the Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) region of the Vallée des Baux in Provence. The Hugues built their own press in the early 2000s in order to ensure higher quality oil, a huge investment that was almost unheard of in France at that time. Their featured product, the wonderful Castelas olive oil, is a blend of four olives that the Hugues grow on their farm. As we walked around and talked about the oil, Jean-Benoît described each of the four olives and how he blends them to produce the Castelas. He spent the most time talking about one varietal, the Grossane, which he called “the magic olive.” Curious, I asked to taste the Grossane oil on its own. Not surprisingly, it was superb. Jean-Benoît told me that, although it wasn’t coming to the States yet, they did have a small bit of the Grossane bottled on its own under the Seigneurs des Baux label. A year later we had it at the Deli, and the recently arrived new harvest is equally delicious.
Legend has it that the Grossane olive was brought back to Provence by the nobles of Les Baux who had been to the Holy Land during the Crusades. While the olive itself is quite large (hence its name), its oil yield is by far the lowest of the four varieties the Hugues harvest—it takes over 20 pounds of Grossane olives to make a liter of oil. Unlike the Castelas oil, which is greener and bolder and grassier, the flavor of Seigneurs des Baux is soft, yet lively, with aromas that Jean-Benoît referred to as “grapefruit and green tomato.” Seigneurs des Baux is gentle, smooth, and mouth filling with a delicate, buttery, and delicious citrusy thing going on. It’s got just a little touch of pepper at the end. It’s great on plain potatoes, delicate greens, and really nice on moderate-to-delicately flavored fish. It’d be perfect to drizzle over sautéed scallops. The sweetness of the oil makes it particularly interesting to use in the context of desserts—it’d be delicious drizzled, with honey, over sections of fresh citrus fruit. And it would also be ideal on the spring asparagus that’s at the market right now. If you’re looking to add a little culinary magic to your table, bring home a bottle of Seigneurs des Baux. Let me leave you with this lovely image, courtesy of the painter Renoir, who wrote of the olives in the region: “Look at the light on the olives. It sparkles like diamonds. It is pink, it is blue, and the sky that plays across them is enough to drive you mad.”