I had a chance to return to The Castelas Olive Growing Estate in southern France today to watch the annual olive oil pressing; and what an event it turned out to be. It had rained the night before, so I half expected to see the harvest halted temporarily; but when I arrived in the unforgettable valley of Les Baux-de-Provence, I was very happy to see things were in full production. Jean-Benoit Hugues and his wife Catherine, the owners of Castelas, started the estate a few years ago to build on their family heritage. The last time I visited it was the off-season, and my wife and I had a nice tour of the quiet estate and bought a couple of containers of their finest olive oil. This time when I arrived, however, the entire gift shop parking area was full –not with cars, but with 500L olive oil containers.
Forklifts were darting here and there with giant boxes of harvested olives on board, making their way from trucks to holding area to press. Many more trucks were waiting in line to unload.
Jean-Benoit has worked with engineers from several manufacturers to develop the most modern pressing facility in the region, and boy was it humming today. He definitely has put his engineering background to good use. Jean-Benoit has several hundred hectares of his own olive trees, but for his processor to work at its optimum capacity, he presses olives for other growers in the area too.
The olive harvest is rather short, and in this area of southern France it begins in mid-October and is wrapped up by December. Where I live, 60 miles to the west, the harvest is a bit later. This is because the varieties that grow well in the cooler climates where I live tend to ripen a month or so later. The harvest there starts in November and ends in January. I’ll be pressing mine in about three weeks.
Anyway, my thanks go out to Jean-Benoit and his wife for being such gracious hosts, and if you ever have the need for a good quality olive oil, check out the offerings of Castelas. You can buy them online here http://www.castelas.com/en/ or you can find them in many fine food outlets in the United States, like Williams-Sonoma and Whole Foods for example.
P.S. If you ever have a chance to visit Les Baux-de-Provence in southern France, I promise that you will be amazed. Whatever the season, the scenery is unforgettable. Castelas sits in a small valley surrounded by rugged mountains on three sides. Vineyards and olives make up the valley floor, and a sea of wild flowers carpet everything. I can’t resist snapping some photos every time I go.
Here are some samples. CLICK ON THE PHOTOS to see the full glory of Baux-de-Provence
I took about thirty more photos of the processing and the breathtaking beauty so drop me a note if you want to see more.