An Olive Oil Tour of France

This book by Alice Alech probably answers every question you ever had about olive oil, and more. While the focus of the book is on the olive oil industry in France, much of the information Ms. Alech provides regarding its chemical composition, health benefits and her cooking recipes would apply to olive oil in general.

First the author discusses the history of the production of olive oil from classical times to the present. She then discusses the climate and soil of the various areas in the Provence region of Southern France as well as Corsica, where the olive trees are grown. Next she provides information regarding how the varieties or cultivars of olives vary from one part of the region to another. Her study of the agricultural side of the process and how it is affected by climate and soil conditions is quite thorough and exhaustive.

The author describes in detail the developments in the processing methods of olive oil through the ages. She visits and interviews growers who use various methods including some who stick to the traditional techniques that date to the day of the Romans as well as others who use the most modern techniques. She seems to favor the more traditional, less industrial model, herself.

She details the economic models that are characteristic of the region. These range from large proprietary farms where the olives are grown, processed and the oil bottled all in place, to small growers who take their olives to a cooperative for processing.

An entire chapter is devoted to the health benefits of olive oil specifically and of the Mediterranean diet in general. The anti-oxidant features of olive oil as well as its ability to reduce cholesterol are discussed thoroughly; and the final quarter of the book is devoted Mediterranean recipes that utilize olive oil in their preparation.

As a general reference work on the subject this book would serve well, but it is more complex and interesting than just that. The many interviews with growers and processors give a human texture to a book that is heavy with technical data. I found this a very interesting read and to an aficionado of olive oil and organic food, it will be a treasure trove. I highly recommend this book to those looking to learn more about this fascinating subject.

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