Olive oil is not the first food product that comes to mind when you think of France, is it? Delicious things like wine, cheese and pastries probably pop into your head first. But I assure you that olive oil is alive and well in France. We visited Castelas olive oil mill and estate on our south of France vacation in September and it was one of the highlights of our trip!
The Castelas estate is a short, scenic drive from Aix-en-Provence and was built from scratch by Catherine and Jean-Benoît Hugues. The French couple had previously lived in Arizona for 15 years but returned home to France to focus on their passion — the olive tree. Their expansive 90 acre property is part of the Vallée des Baux de Provence Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) and is a must-see if you’re in the area. They personally give tours and educate visitors, which is a nice touch that really made our afternoon one to remember.
If you’re curious, the Hugues explain on their website that the wine making and olive oil processes are very similar. From harvesting perfectly ripe fruit all the way through extracting the juice and blending the varieties, olive oil and wine making have a lot in common. We got to see this firsthand on our tour, which started off out back where we saw the Castelas olive oil mill and the machinery up close.
From there, we sat down to a tasting which included six olive oil varieties. We first smelled the olive oil and then tasted it noting any particular aromas or flavors that lingered on our palates. So we wouldn’t be influenced by the color, each sample was disguised in a blue plastic container. Some had a heavier taste laced with a peppery aftertaste and others were light and made me think of summery vinaigrettes and dipping oils. One sample was rancid (to keep us on our toes) and I picked up on this right away although Tom thought it smelled good!
Once the tasting was over, it was time to shop for Castelas olive oil. The Castelas olive oil range is vast and includes extra virgin varieties and aromatics which are infused with herbs and other flavors. Tom’s favorite was the black olive variety, CastelaS Fruité Noir AOC, and is best in mashed potatoes, for making mayonnaise and in garlic-seasoned salads. Is it cheap? No, but if you’re into cooking and quality olive oil, you already know that cheap olive oil is a waste of time. You can buy Castelas olive oil on Amazon here.
On our way out, the family dog watched us leave from an upstairs window.
The Castelas olive oil tour and tasting is a great way to spend an afternoon if you’re in the area. It’s free, extremely educational and a one-of-a-kind experience that will be one of the highlights of your trip. And going into it, I didn’t expect that to be the case!