[…] The Mediterranean starts with the olive tree
– Fernand Braudel
When we think of the Mediterranean, we think of olive trees. Legend says that they have been brought by the goddess Athena to make peace with Poseidon, thus symbolizing peace, wisdom and endurance. They are a crucial part to our understanding for the region and it is no surprise that the French Mediterranean region has its own varieties to offer, the most typical ones for the region being Lucques (recognizable by its slightly bent lunar shape), Amellau, Verdale de l’Hérault and Picholine. In the olden days, they were a welcomed additional source of income as they did not interfere with the harvesting of other crops because they were picked during the fall and winter months. The département Hérault is the northern limit for olive tree growing, limited by the mountains as the trees won’t grow above 700m and are sensitive to lenghty periods of cold and wind.
Freshly picked olives are not edible as they are much too bitter. The process of curing is needed to extract the bitterness. Green olives are put into an alkaline solution of bicarbonate of soda and then left in brine. The first step can be skipped with black olives.
The process of making olive oil is fairly simple, all you need to do is to extract the oil. Traditional methods use mechanical oil mills whereas modern techniques use a centrifuge to seperate the solids and the liquid and the oil from water.
Another staple of Mediterranean cuisine is chèvre (goat’s cheese). Small farms preserved their traditional ways of making chèvre, so here are the steps to make Pélardon, a cheese from the Languedoc region: The first step is to mix the milk with some fermenting agents and basically let it turn sour. However, it is not allowed to use any heat treatments during this stage. After about 20 hours, the curd can be put into little casting molds. This work is done by hand to ensure the quality of this delicate product. The Pélardon is turned once in its casting mold and then taken out to a grid. It is then salted and rested for another 11 days. Each two days, the grids are turned to remain its even shape and homogenous content. The cheeses are then ready for consumption.
Marrons are a popular side dish for Christmas, used for stuffing or as mash (and I can tell you from personal experience that it is delish). Sweet desserts are also likely to have some sort of marrons in them (this post makes me crave some marron lava cake…so good).
Last but not least, the region produces some really good wine, for example at the Pic St. Loup. Unfortunately, I am still no wine expert and cannot tell you much about it.
information was provided by the tourist office in the département de l’Hérault