Saturday, June 21, 2014

French Olives on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman

France does not compete with the tonnage of other European countries, but its olives do compete on quality. 
The French are proud of their olives and they have a right to be.

French olive production does not get close to the to the quantities produced in Spain, Italy,Greece or Tunisia; however, the south of France produces excellent olives (AOP) (1) , as well as very fine olive oils.(2)   Walk around supermarkets or open-air markets and you will find an exemplary assortment of fabulous French olives with AOP (1) ratings. You may also enjoy  other first-rate French olives without those special initials at far lower prices; however those you have to taste and experiment with.
Photograph courtesy of  Marco Bernardini
Buying olives for a picnic
A picnic while traveling France is, of course, a wonderful  way to taste local breads, wines, pates and cheeses, and  great French olives.  Walk through the markets in town and ask at a stall to taste one of their olives, you will usually get an OK and a smile.  Taste that one and then at the next stall, ask to taste and eat another. Soon you will have found  two or three olives that you really like, and for a picnic buy 100 or 150 grams of each.  If the olives'  names are not marked on the packing, ask, and write them down for future use.  At the picnic, enjoy the sensations that these French olives can bring when they compliment the cheeses and pates.

Farmer's markets.

If you are traveling through France and want an instant picnic stop at one of the many tourist offices, and ask where the nearest farmers’ market is.  In small towns and villages, farmer’s markets are usually held twice a week in the mornings. The next town or village may be less than 3 km (2 miles) away and they may have their farmers’ market that day. The tourist information office will give you a list of farmer’s markets for the next week or month, all within  a ten or 15 km (6  or 9 miles) range.  French farmers’ markets will  offer nearly everything you need for a picnic; however make sure the white wines are cold. Large cities also have farmer's markets in different quarters, ask in your hotel or at a tourist information office.

A few of the words that may assist you in identifying the tastes of  olives on sale:

Olives a l'Ail - Olives with cured with added garlic.

Olives Cassées – Pickled olives that have intentionally been lightly crushed before pickling; this produces a spicier taste.

Olive de Mer or Telline – Not an olive; this is a small and tasty clam!

Olives Ėclatées – Broken olives; crushed would be olives écrasées. These are the olives most often used for pizzas and similar dishes.

Olives Dénoyautée - Pitted olives. For salads, I prefer these; I know I will not break a tooth.... Still taste them before buying, some can be very salty.

 Olives Farcie á l'Anchois – Olives stuffed with anchovies. 

Olivette – On your menu this will describes the olive shape that some vegetable or vegetables will  be cut into.  It may well be that there are no olives in the dish in question.
A few of France's olives.

France has over a hundred varieties of wild olive trees, but only 10 or 15  are farmed with their fruit considered good enough for sale. These farmed olives will be on the supermarket shelves and on sale in the markets:
Aglandau; Aglandaou or Berruguette  – These are eating olives and mostly seen in the markets when pickled in brine. Some are sold as a crushed eating olive under the name Berruguete Cassées with their spicier taste. The same olives when sold to make olive oil are very much appreciated and their bottles will note the origin. These olives are grown around the department of Bouches du Rhône in the Alpes de Haute Provence. If you are in traveling in the area where these olives are grown try the local Bouche de Rhone IGP VDP table wines.  We  really enjoyed a local white Vdp wines that we bought in a supermarket and cooled it in our rented apartment's refrigerator. A big plus is that these wines are incredibly cheap as they have no AOP (1) on the label.  Vdp means vin de table, wine for the table. The Vdp label has been changed to VdF, meaning Vins de France. These wines with the IGP wines include more than 60% of the wines on the tables in French private homes.There will be a separate post on all the new Pan-European wine regulations and the new French wine labels.

Olives and almonds to sell.
Photograph courtesy Jean-Paul GAILLARD
Olive de Nice AOP, Olives Noire Niçoises AOP, or Olive Cailleter – The AOP graded Olive Niçoise. This is probably the most appreciated and the most expensive black table olive in France.  It is the olive of choice in Niçoise (7) recipes,  and an absolute must  in a real salade niçoise.  For more about salade Nicoise see the post: Salade Niçoise - The Most Famous of all French salads. (4)

Olives at the mill.
Photographs courtesy of  Jamie Ross

Olive de Nice AOP, may also be on your menu:

Raviolis de Veau à la Ricotta; Courgettes Trompette (5) et Olives de Nice – Ravioli made with veal and ricotta cheese and served with regular courgettes  (the USA Zuchnnis) where a single flower grows at one end. That flower at the end is  the trompette, trumpet.  the dish is served along with the Olives de Nice.

Tapenade  d'Olives de Nice AOP – A tapenade  made with the Nice olives. A tapenade  is a take on the Provençal anchoyade or anchoïad, see below.  To make a tapenade into an anchoyade  all needs to be done is to add câpres, capers.

Anchoyade, Anchoïade or Anchouiado - An anchovy based spread created in Provence. If you like anchovies, olives, garlic and olive oil this is for you.  Spread your anchoyade thickly on French country bread, sliced baguette or toast and order a glass of cold, dry, white wine. Then sit back and close your eyes and take a bite; you may find yourself in anchovy, olive and garlic heaven.  Anchoyades will  also be used a a base in sauces that accompany other dishes, usually fish.

Salade de Langoustines à l'Huile d'Olive de Nice AOP -   A salad of  Dublin Bay Prawns, the real Scampi, with the olive oil de Nice (AOP) (6).
Olive de Nice AOP Lucques (La) or Lucques du Roussillon – This is the green olive from Nice olive family. This olive is mostly sold as a table olive though some do make it to the olive press.

Olives Cassées de la Vallée des Baux AOP – Only two types of olives carry this name, the salonenque and the aglandau from the Vallée de Baux a community in part of Provence that was rich in Bauxite, an aluminum ore.   That ore was heavily exploited until about 100 years ago; however the connections between the Baux communities remain. The growers  of these olives intentionally lightly crush the olives and preserve  them in brine for your table. 
Your menu may offer:
Ragoût d'Agneau aux Olives Cassées AOP de la Vallée des Baux-de-Provence. - A lamb stew made with the addition of the lightly crushed olives of  la Vallée des Baux AOP

 Saumon (5) Mariné à Aneth à l'Huile d'Olive AOP de la Vallée des Baux de Provence  - Atlantic Salmon marinated  with dill and the AOP(1)olive oil from the Vallée des Baux de Provence.

The village of Les Baux de Provence is set on the highest promontory in this part of Provence’s rocky Alpilles, and the view from here should not to be missed. Even if the village itself is very touristy, the view of the valley below is unique.  A famous hotel  and two Michelin starred restaurants are also set here,  but for those book ahead.

The nearby  town of Saint Remy de Provence is  famous for its history, its beauty, its excellent Provençal cuisine and, of course,  the convent that treated the painter Vincent Van Gogh when he was considered insane.  Saint Remy de Provence was also the birthplace of Nostradamus; Nostradamus was a strange philosopher and physician and I have written more about him later in this post.

A view  from the heights of  Les Baux de Provence
Photograph courtesy of  Sanctu
Olive de Nyons AOP  or Tanches de Nyons AOP – The black to violet colored Provençal olive with a round shape and a large pit; with its own AOP the Olive de Nyons AOP  is a very special olive.  The word tanches in one of its names just means olive in the Provençal language. The oil from these olives is the Huile d’Olive de Nyons AOP.
The Olive de Nyons come, rather obviously,  from around the small town of Nyons in the department of Drome in the Rhône-Alpes. Nyons is  about 70 km (44 miles) from Avignon. The Nyon's olives are  very  different, they are allowed to ripen on the tree until they begin to shriveland then hand-picked between November and January. Some of these olives  are sold to become very costly extra virgin olive oil and others will be pickled in brine  and sold, also expensively, for the table.

 Your menu may offer:

Merlan de Llimousine Grillé à La Fleur de Sel, Polenta Crémeuse à l'Olive Noire de Nyons - A  merlan is a steak cut from the rump and there is no similar North American or UK cut.  Here the steak is grilled atop fleur de sel, the hand-picked salts crystals which I must write about is a future post, and served with a creamy polenta and the black olives from Nyon. The  cut  called a merlan is often taken home by French butchers for his  or her family; he or she knows their value.  A local restaurant, with educated locals as its clientele,  may well be offering this cut as as a daily special. A merlan de rumsteck can be confusing if you are using a French-English pocket dictionary as the fish called whiting is called a Merlan in French!  Maybe the shape of the cut looks  similar to the fish?  Be careful when you are ordering!

Tapenade à base d'olives noir de Nyons AOP - A tapenade is a take on the Provençal anchoyade or anchoïad.  To make a tapenade into an anchoyade  all that is done is to add câpres, capers. The chapter above on the Olive de Nice AOP has more about anchoyade.

Bottled Nyon Olives for sale.
Photograph courtesy of  Bas Boerman

 Olive de Nice or Cailleter – see Cailleter.

Olive de Nîmes AOP  - This is the  picholine olive  and easily recognized as it is a green pointed olive, long and narrow. The Olive de Nîmes AOP  is grown in very specific parts of the départements of Gard and Hérault, in the région of Languedoc-Roussillon.

The Olive de Nîmes AOP produces olives that are harvested early in the season, in the fall. At that time, the olive  is considered to be low in oil; however, its brine curing process make this an outstanding table olive.  These olives come from 183 approved groves in the departments of Gard  and Hérault in the  region of Languedoc-Roussillon.
Jars of the Olive de Nyon AOP
                                                  Photograph courtesy Cooperative de Beaucaire

Salonenque  This green olive  comes from the commune of Salon-de-Provence. Here they raise the  salonenque mostly as a green crushed table olive.   Salon-de-Provence is a very  pretty town and that brings  it added fame. This commune  is in the Bouches-du-Rhône department Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur. The distance from Salon-de-Provence to Avignon is 50km (31 miles).

Saloneque olives.
Apart from being a pretty town there are other reasons to stop and look around Salon de Provence   I will begin with the museum of soap.  Once the town was famous for soap and its factories competed  with the Marseilles soap factories; all  the soap was made with local olives. Then  WWI and  the 1929 great depression saw the  end of most of the soap factories and so today just one factory with a museum and shop remains:  Visit the Marius Fabre soap factory and  shop, it is  definitely worth it as a different and interesting and educational stop, even if you do not buy any soap and only spend 20 minutes, it is a view into times, and soaps, gone by.

The next reason to visit Salon de Provence requires at least a few days of preparation, unless you already know about Nostradamus (1503 – 1566)?

 Nostradamus was a weird and mysterious philosopher, physician, clairvoyant, prophet, lunatic and more. Salon-de-Provence has a Maison de Nostradamus, the house of Nostradamus, he spent the last nineteen years of his life here. By the way just 40 km (25 miles) away  is the town of  Saint-Remy de Provence which  also claims Nostradamus as their own; Nostradamus was born there and so they have their own Nostradamus museum. The competition over the site of  Nostradamus's real home is fierce.

Nostradamus fame comes mostly from for his weird and opaque prophesies. The prophesies are inside his verses of four and six lines, called quatrains and sixains. 
It is through these verses that his admirers credit him with predicting wars, anti-Christ’s, including Napoléon I and Hitler. Innumerable additional prophesies are to be found, if you believe, including  predicting the horror of  9/11.
Statue of Nostradamus
Courtesy of  Babak Farrokhi
This statue of Nostradamus  is in the Museum of Tabriz, Iran, 
  Now you know what the Iranians are up to!
Before you read some of his verses (most are on the internet) and see what strange happenings he sets in  the future, like many other of his predictions his date for end of the world was wrong. If he was right no one would be reading this post!

I have read many of Nostradamus’s verses, and many interpretations, I own his complete verses! . Most often the interpretations are even stranger and more convoluted than what Nostradamus himself wrote. See:

The answer, when I  have questioned those who interpret Nostradamus's verses is that all religious writings are written in code, and they have the code while I do not.   In the meantime back to the olives.

Olives Noire Provençal – Black olives from Provence.


Provençal Olive Grove.
Photograph courtesy of Jacob

 Connected Posts:
 (1) AOC and AOP on France's Foods and Wine labels? Why is the AOC becoming an AOP? 

(5) Salmon, Atlantic Salmon – Saumon on French Menus. 

(6) Dining well and differently in Nice. The Unique Cuisine from the City and the Comté de Nice. 

Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu 
Copyright 2010, 2014.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman 

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