During our visit to Grasse, situated in the French department Alpes-Maritimes, we were lucky enough to get to meet Mr. Lionel Brault. He is the co-author, with his wife of the book “l’Oleologie”, and also owner of “La Royrie”, where he produces two wonderful extra virgin olive oils. These oils are produced with the “cailletier” variety of olive and have a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) of Nice. Mr. Brault devotes body and soul into producing this excellent oil focusing on the quality over the quantity, while respecting the environment. We had the chance to go for a nice walk on his land, through the olive groves, that he cares so well. All this leads to the production of two excellent oils that we got to taste and enjoy.
The land of “La Royrie” counts 300 hundred olive trees, that are aged around 500 years old, in 2,5 hectares. There were some severe frosts in this region and a lot of these trees were badly affected. Their production level was very low. In “La Royrie” they were determined to recover them. Their first step was to do a very severe prune. The only thing that was left of the trees was the trunk. This was a structural pruning. New shoots grew up, and these turned into new, strong branches. Every three years, they get rid of the suckers and they also do a more specific pruning of the branches to shape the olive tree as desired. These old trunks have an advantage, and that is that their root system is really strong. The new branches are healthy and flexible. That way the olive trees are like young trees and also very strong, and the level of production increases.
In this region, the level of production of 2012 has been really good, and it has increased 2 or 3 times in comparison with previous years.
In France there are 8 PDO, and it is very important to be part of them. This forces the producer to analyze frequently the acidity and the oxidation levels of the olives. This motivates them to improve the quality of the olive oil, since the producers harvest the olives at the right time.
In “La Royrie” these analysis of the olives take place weekly, thus helping them know when the olives are at their optimal level of maturity (the level of olive oil and aromas increase with time, but the latter decrease quickly). Therefore, the colour is not the only factor that determines the maturity of the olives.
In “La Royrie” there is a compromise with the environment, and the olive oils that they produce are organic olive oils. This means that no pesticides are used in their olive trees neither chemical fertilizers on the ground. The methods that are used against pests are several and never ending. One of them is mixing clay with water and then this mixture is pulverized over the trees. The clay covers the leaves as well as the olives. The olive fly stops putting its eggs in the olives because the clay does not let it recognize the tree and because it bothers its legs. They also plant a wild plant called Dittrichia viscosa in between the olive trees. The flowers of these plants attract a species of bee that parasite the olive flies. They have lambs as well that eat the olives (previously parasited by the flies) that have fallen on the ground. The worms that were on the olives disappear this way, not having the chance to transform into flies the following year.
In the PDO of Nice there are two determined periods for harvesting the olives. These are known as “early harvest” and “late harvest”. In 2012, the dates that where settled were from November 5th to the end of the same month for the early harvest, and from mid-December until Christmas for the late harvest.
The quality of the olive oils that are produced in “La Royrie” is exquisite. Both are organic, unfiltered, produced with the “cailletier” variety of olive (which presents no bitterness at all) and have the PDO of Nice. Their acidity this year again is very low: 0´21% which accounts for their excellent quality.
Their early harvest extra virgin olive oil has many aromas, like almonds, mowed lawn, the skin of pears and pumpkin. Once tasted, it is very fruity and the pepperiness takes a while to develop; it is as well full bodied. It goes perfectly with fresh pasta and steamed vegetables and potatoes, amongst other things. Once heated, the aromas of this oil accentuate and the result of it is a festival for the senses!
Their late harvest extra virgin olive oil has floral and fruity aromas, as well as those of artichokes, kiwi, mowed lawn, almonds and vanilla… it is very aromatic. Once tasted, you can appreciate that it is fruity, full bodied and also the level of pepperiness is very intense. It is recommended to use this oil in sophisticated cooking. It goes extremely well with fish dishes and also with desserts! When used in baking, the heat enhances all the aromas in a very nice way, and no one can resist eating the cakes that have been prepared with this oil!
We are thankful to M. Brault for this wonderful visit in a beautiful setting that is La Royrie, surrounded by hundred year old olive trees! We’ll surely remember it for a long time!