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Extending an Olive Branch

Amongst the famous vineyards of the village of Calce, Carmen and Didier Lamirand care for their 50 year-old olive trees with a devotion nothing short of inspiring.

A Franco-American-Cuban-South American family, in 2002 they moved back to Didier’s native France intent on making a go at organic olive oil production. “Historically this was the most important region in France for olive oil,” explains Carmen. That is, before the 1956 freeze. The big freeze killed many olive trees and left the olive oil industry exposed and vulnerable. Demoralized growers replanted with the help of government subsidies, but then let the trees fend for themselves as they abandoned them for more lucrative crops.

This is the story of Carmen and Didier’s groves, planted almost fifty years ago and left to face the severe winds of the tramontane, wildfires and drought on their own. “We’re pretty rugged here,” says Carmen, about the rocky soil and wind-shaped trees. She then adds, almost apologetically for the trees’ sake, “Which is good they’ve developed a lot of strength. They’re very hardy here.”

Olive trees need to be pruned if you want continual fruit production. It’s a lot of work, admit Didier and Carmen. “You get to the point where you love your tree, once it starts returning that care and producing fruit,” says Carmen. The trees also need help fending off pests like the Mediterranean fruit fly. Carmen and Didier chose to do it all following organic methods, something they say many people divined would fail. But just the opposite happened. “We found that you can control 90% of the damage with organic methods,” insists Carmen. “Of course you’re always chasing after the fly and sooner or later she catches up with you,” she adds with a big laugh. This explains the 10% of inevitable damage.

Now, many olive growers are following suit and growing organically. According to Carmen, olive oil began to be profitable again in the 1980’s when the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet became famous. Today, high quality olive oils with character and refined aromas are most profitable. Organic oils are even more valuable.

You can be sure you’ll get to taste Carmen and Didier’s olive oil on a tour with Real Travel France.



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