I have long harboured a desire to understand more about olive oil and olive related products. Olive trees are such a beautiful feature of our landscape and the product should really be delicious coming from this sun soaked place with its fertile red earth.
Yet there is quite a bit of variation in quality, largely down to olive mills (‘moulins’) either not being well-run or being poorly equipped, rather than agricultural constraints. On my cyber-travels I spotted an olive oil cooperative that seemed to be singled out for a lot of praise and awards and decided to pay them a visit with my fellow olive-lover Ludovic.
The Moulin de Cinq Ponts is in the village of Cuers, just outside Toulon, and as we drew up outside the slightly dilapidated building with no obvious place for us to park, I began to feel prematurely disappointed. As we entered what looked like a big old garage my bad juju began to improve, as I saw a beautiful combination of old machines and the newest technology side by side, and then we received a warm welcome from a retired member of the co-op.
We did the tour, which was comprehensive and fun. We found out about how the mill used to function before modern technology took hold and how it functions now that they have acquired the latest kit for making a slightly more standardised product, which also provides big savings on labour costs, formerly a huge factor in oil production.
The Moulin des Cinq Ponts is one of the few mills to de-stone the olives before they press them and they even use the stones to heat their premises as a bio-fuel – which makes very good ecological sense.
Interestingly they subdivide their oil into three tastes: an early harvested oil, which is greener in colour, more peppery and has a slightly bitter taste; a “traditional” oil, harvested later and left to ferment a little to give more elaborate, but softer, umami-esque flavours ; and lastly a late- harvested oil which is the subtlest in taste and would really suit even the most sensitive palate.
The beautiful thing about all three oils was the gorgeous and pure flavour of olives that dominates, but with none of the harsh and unpleasant flavours you sometimes experience with less high-quality oils; they really are a huge pleasure to taste with nothing but a chunk of toasted bread and some salt.
The Moulin des Cinq Ponts is very much worth a visit if you happen to be near by. It’s only open on Thursdays (from 9am-12pm), but prices are very reasonable for the superb oils and related products. I, for one, will certainly return to stock-up my larder.