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  • alison3684

Name that olive

There are three olive trees in the garden, planted by Michel and Jocelyne who established the bed and breakfast business here. The house was named after those trees (OTrois Oliviers) but the business name had been changed by the time we bought it.

We changed the name back as the three olive trees still survive and we wanted to honour the amount of effort that went into renovating and converting the old farmhouse. We have bought two more olive trees as a sort of insurance policy so I suppose that you could now call us O Cinq Oliviers.

I hadn't ever thought about olive varieties until we came here. I always assumed that there were two types: one green and one black, much in the same way that I thought there were three varieties of bell pepper ( red, orange and green).

I bought a book on how to look after olive trees and soon discovered that there are many, many varieties of olive. The green and black colours indicate the stage of ripeness of the olive, unlike grapes where the colour definitely does vary with variety. (And yes, red, orange and green also indicate ripeness, rather than variety as far as peppers are concerned.)

I can't be sure what variety our trees are so decided to use well-known French varieties as names for our rooms.

Tanche: this type is mainly grown in the area of Nyons, Provence, and is used to produce black table olives as well as olive oil from. It is often used to make tapenade, as well. The olives are of a medium-size and ripen to a rich, reddish-brown colour. It is the only cultivar that has been awarded the Nyons appelation which was granted in 1994 and is known as the Black Pearl of Provence. The photo above shows why!

The oil is said to taste of apples and can even be quite grassy. It is usually quite sweet as well thanks to the late harvest which allows the olives to develop this characteristic flavour.

Sabine: this is a variety that is grown in the Balagne region of Corsica. It is principally grown for oil production since it gives an extraordinarily high yield: in a good year, it may yield as much as 30% (others such as Tanche, typically yield 20 - 25%). It's a very fresh and nutty oil and the olive normally ripens in the first half of the year.

Picholine: the one that we all most likely to recognise as it mostly used to produce cocktail olives. Bright green in colour, it's originally from the Languedoc but can now be found in Provence and other areas of France. It's also widely grown around the world in places such as the US, Chile and Israel, thanks to its generosity of yields. It can be susceptible to cold so prefers warmer climes (a bit like me!).

Cocktail olives take a while to prepare: they are first cured and then fermented in brine for around a year before being ready to eat. They are harvested when green for curing but are also left to ripen and to turn black in order to produce oil. The oil yield is quite low, hence the preference for use as a table olive.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of olive cultivars in the world, many that are specific to their own region. Maybe next time you glug the olive oil onto your salad, you might be tempted to check the label and see where it came from?

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