Mas des Barres Olive Oil Mill South of France Provence


A trip to the South of France doesn't seem complete without a visit to an olive mill, after all some of the best olive oils in the world are produced here.  While driving through the Vallée des Baux of Provence, our  Culinary Getaways group visited Mas des Barres, a family owned and operated olive mill.



Since 1992, the Quenin family has been producing high quality olive oil from this AOC-designated region, growing olives, carefully selecting fruit and milling them into fine oils.  Their standards for excellence have garnered several accolades and prestigious distinction, including a gold medal in 2004 from the International Olive Oil Council, it doesn't get much better than that for an olive oil producer. 


While waiting for Jean-Baptiste, a second generation family member of the Quenin family, I looked over to the hundreds of olive trees and imagined what it must be like to live on this estate. The summers spent sitting under the canopy of thick tangled fig tree branches, surrounded by fine wines and fresh seasonal food. It is no wonder that people romanticize this region so much, it is just stunning in its natural beauty.


Before we headed to the olive groves, we stopped at the olive oil boutique, and found nearly every product that could be imagine made from olives. In addition to olive oil, there were beautifully carved wooden bowls made from olive wood, olive candles and a broad selection of beauty products. All of the beauty products were natural and paraben-free, which I found particularly impressive. The emphasis of natural, whether it be food or make-up seems to be a deeply embedded philosophy across Europe.


Outside, we walked with Jean-Baptiste to check out the expansive grounds. Notice the chalky white color of the distant mountain range. It is an indication of the limestone composition of this region. There are very few crops that grow in such poor quality soil, but olive trees, grape vines and fig trees thrive where others would struggle. In this range, the Quenin family has established over one hundred oak trees infected with black truffle spores. They expect to be able to harvest truffles in a few years from this plot of land. This is spectacular foresight on their part, and I hope one day to return to conduct a truffle hunt with Jean-Baptiste. 


According to Jean-Baptiste, who is a wonderfully charming man, the estate grows five varieties of olives: picholine, grossane, verdale, béruguette, salonenque. Picholine is my favorite. When René Quenin, Jean-Baptiste's father, began the olive mill in 1992, he instructed the family to produce only what they were able to sell. In 1992 that meant going through 70 tons, today it is in excess of 500 tons of olives. "The Vallée des Baux represents a small but extremely interesting “terroir”, the quality and diversity of olive oils depend on the exposure of our olive trees, as well as on all our complementary varieties of olives!" says René.


Inside the olive mill facility, we observe how much of the traditional processes have been augmented with modern machinery. This spiral tube lifts the olive fruit and drops them into cold water bath to undergo a thorough rinsing.


As you can see in the picture above, there are tiny holes where water shoot from to help separate dirt and pebbles that may be stuck onto the olive fruit. The cleaned olives float and spill into the next tank, while the dirt and pebbles remain.


The olives are then grounded with these steel wheels for roughly two hours.


The grounded olives then enter into this tank to expel the olive oil from the olive fiber. As stated before  today the mill uses about 500 metric tons of olive fruit producing between 80,000 and 100,000 liters.


Once extracted, the olive fibers are scattered onto the grounds to become a natural fertilizer for the olive trees. This is the only treatment that they apply to their crop, and I think this is recycling at its best.


The resulting olive oils are stored in large plastic tanks, after which the Quentin family exhaustively taste and blend to determine balanced mix. In 2004, their ambition for an olive oil with a diverse, mild, very fruity flavor profile won favor with the International Council of Olive Oil when it was declared the best of the world in the "mildly fruity" category, ahead of an Italian and a Spanish producer.


Outside, we gathered around the table under the ancient gnarled fig trees for an olive oil tasting. The bottle to the left contains fresh unfiltered olive oil, while the one to the right of it had been aged for one year.  For some reason, I had in mind, the fresher the olive oil the better. Not so.


The fresh olive oil had an overwhelming harsh grassy bitterness, while the flavor of the aged olive oil was well-rounded and harmonious with vegetal nuances of artichoke, fresh herbs, followed by black pepper notes with a long pleasant nutty finish.


Jean Baptiste, who is a very humble man and initially camera shy, broke out and struck a fun pose.  This is one of my favorite memories of the trip.

51 comments:

Stephanie Savors the Moment said...

What a fabulous experience & your photos are so gorgeous **sigh**! I adore olives - we toured Felsina winery in Tuscany that also made olive oil and took some bottles home. I'm almost out so I think this time I'll check out France - thanks for sharing:)

KennyT said...

This is so cool! I wish I could visit one of the olive mills in Italy/France/Portugal one day!

Joanne said...

I could not live without good olive oil! I swear that makes up most of the fat that I eat. Thanks for letting me tour this place with you!

Chef E said...

One day I will be visiting one too, I have a friend who visits France each year, she always brings me back a small can of it, I LOVE HER, and the oil!

alison said...

very,very impressive!you had another beautiful french experience!

El said...

How did you find all of these great places? Was this part of the same group that made the mashed potatoes? It looks amazing. I wish I could visit right now!

Sophie said...

Waw!! What a lovely experience & what a great tour!! It looks that you had fun!

Trissa said...

Wonderful tour - I've never been to an olive oil mill - must make sure to put that on my next agenda to France!

Debinhawaii said...

As usual--stunning photos. It looks like such and interesting and fun visit--I'm envious. ;-)

Simply Life said...

wow! what a fun place to visit!

girlichef said...

aaaahhhhh! So incredible...seriously awesome post, Christine. I'm so jealous I could spit. just sayin'...

Heavenly Housewife said...

You travel to the most amazing places. I just adore looking at your beautiful pictures and imagining I am there too :)
*kisses* HH

My Carolina Kitchen said...

Christine, you captured the olive oil mill and the area beautifully with your camera.

It's amazing what they make from the olive oil. I especially love the big square soaps on the top shelf. We were visiting a friend in France once and I needed to rinse out some clothes and asked where her Woolite was. Horrified, she said, "You won't find anything like Woolite in France. We use olive oil soap and handed me one of those big square soaps." It worked beautifully.

Great post Christine. I enjoyed every minute of it.
Sam

Belinda @zomppa said...

Your post makes me wonder why I don't live in a place like that. =)

tasteofbeirut said...

Funny! Last night my Niçoise friend called me and asked me about Lebanese olive oil; she was looking for a fruity one. I too wish I could live in Provence (I lived in Aix for a little while)!
Beautiful photos and thanks Christine for the informative post.

nancy at good food matters said...

Another fascinating aspect of your French adventure--
such a lovely place, producing top notch oil.
I am so grateful that olive trees can prosper where others cannot!
Thanks for another great virtual journey.

Angie's Recipes said...

I find the pictures you took, esp. the first one, truly stunning!

kat said...

A beautiful place!

Asha @ FSK said...

Fantastic write up! Oh! To live in such a place... ah!

Fresh Local and Best said...

Thanks everyone for your kind comments!

El - Yes, this was part of Culinary Getaway's Truffle Week organized by Sherry Page. It's an amazing and well-thought out trip. Sherry visits every venue and determines whether it will be interesting to the group, we're transported from one amazing location to the next. I was able to experience so much of Provence in one week that I decided that I'm going to join Culinary Getaways again for their Tuscany trip.

Claudia said...

The post transported me. With my morning coffee,I sat under olive trees and gazed at the mountains. What a grand thing it would be to go truffle hunting there later. Olive oil skin care is soothing and I do not use it enough! Love the emphasis on the "natural."

Stella said...

Hey Christine, what a life the Quenin family must have-I can't even imagine living in such a beautiful place and being able to create like that...
Picholine is my favorite olive of the ones listed above too. I've always loved them!

Patricia said...

Yay! You've given me even more reason to make a trip to the South of France. I just finished Julia Child's My Life in France, which is similarly inspiring.

Cool Lassi(e) said...

Love the recycling part. And I love olives, olive oil and anything that comes out of an olive. Love post!

Mari's Cakes said...

Ahhh I wish I was there. I love the olive beauty products, especially the soap bars.

Have a great one!

Andrea@WellnessNotes said...

What a fun, informative, and beautiful experience!!! I so want to go back to the south of France...

Haddock said...

Got a good idea about the whole process.

I think you should sell your pictures.

Read my latest post.

Pam said...

Great post with lots of info and beautiful photos! I bet the olive oil is delicious and the olive oil boutique looks great! Makes me want to return to France!!!

Bellini Valli said...

Initially I hadn't really though of there being different types and varieties of olives just as their are grapes for wine. It makes sense since olives are a fruit. I would love to have experienced this journey.

Cinnamon-Girl said...

Jean Baptiste is a cutie! And the region is beautiful! I can only imagine it is akin to heaven to live on the estate. Thanks for showing us the process!

Erica said...

Beautiful pictures! what an amazing place!

A Canadian Foodie said...

It never ceases to amaze me - how many different flavours there are in one simple product... evoo... each one tastes so different. While I appreciate the grassy ones, I prefer the fruity ones. The thicker, the better. I enjoyed your tour!
:)
Valerie

lostpastremembered said...

I am moving up the olive oil ladder... slowly but surely buying better and better... they really do have personalities like wine. I love your photos and reporting of the visit to the oil farm (?is that right?)
delicious!

Nadji said...

Bonne expérience.
Il est vrai qu'on ne peut plus cuisiner sans une bonne huile d'olive.
See soon.

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said...

GREAT post! It was *almost* like I was there!!!! Thanks for my little trip to France on this grey Thursday afternoon!

Cathy said...

What an interesting and informative post. Your photos are wonderful and took us on a lovely tour. It's amazing how complex olive oil is.

Juliana said...

Wow, so interesting...love the information and the pictures as well :-) I can almost smell the olives.

5 Star Foodie said...

Fascinating experience, I've never visited an olive oil mill, this will be a must when we return to Southern France for a trip one day!

Kim said...

I would love to spend quite some time there, especially in the olive oil boutique! I would love to have some olive wood pieces for my kitchen, as well as some of the beauty products. Sounds like so much fun Christine. Thanks for sharing.

Sarah Naveen said...

wonderful post..i would love to visit all these places one day..

Michelle @ Find Your Balance said...

How beautiful and well documented! Thank you for sharing :-)

The Blonde Duck said...

How cool!

Trix said...

Isn't that interesting? I would have thought that fresh would be better also. I would like to taste this harsh fresh stuff for myself, just to see the difference. Your photos are gorgeous (as always).

Lori said...

I would love to have an olive tree at my house. And I would so love to be in France right now.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

What a great tour (and photos). I love to visit food production facilities, and I'd like to see the process for pressing olive oil up close some day.

Barbara said...

Fabulous post, Christina! I've never been fortunate enough to see an olive mill, so adored your photos and commentary. Thanks for taking is along!

Punctuation Mark said...

what a fantastic trip... definitely it's a must on such a trip... love the images too!

sweetlife said...

what a wonderful trip , what wonderful produts, I love the pics of the grounds, yes I can see why so many people would love to live there...great post..love the last pic

sweetlife

Ellie (Almost Bourdain) said...

What a lovely trip you had. I love to have an olive tree in my backyard :)

Mari's Cakes said...

Delicious! I love this recipe. : D

Sherry said...

Christine, this is an incredible post! As you know, this is one of my favorite olive oils and one of my favorite destinations on the Provence Getaways. So well done!