Aix’s Interesting Christmas Festival:
The town of Aix-en-Provence has an interesting Christmas festival. Each year in December, the Festival of New Oil takes place at the “Place de la Rotonde” to celebrate the season’s new olive oil and fresh truffles.
The first pressing of the year’s olives takes place in December and provides the much sought-after virgin oil.
It was the Greeks who planted the first olive trees in the region and olives and olive products such as tapenade (a purée of black or green olives), table olives and of course, olive oil have become some of the main ingredients of Provençal cuisine .
Aix’s Olive Tradition
Aix has been the olive tree capital of France since the 18th century and has continued to keep its olive heritage alive in appreciation of this treasure that nature has provided them.
There are over 2000 olive growers and close to 300,000 olive trees in Aix today. After the olives are harvested, they are transported and deposited in the mill where they are washed in cold water. They are then put in the grinder which reduces them to a thick paste.
The olive paste is blended to a certain consistency and then spread over mesh made of plaited vegetable fibre which are then piled onto the base of the press.
Virgin olive oil is obtained solely by mechanical means. The oil from the olive fruit is pure and is not subjected to any chemical treatment. It takes 100 kilos of olive fruit to make about 20 litres of oil.
Aix’s Other Treasure
At the Christmas Fair, local truffles are sold along side olive oil. Truffles are yet another treasure that is found in Aix-en-Provence. They are incredibly expensive at over US$500 a pound and truffle-harvesting is a well-kept secret amongst families in the know. Dogs or pigs are trained in the art of sniffing out this precious commodity and once a patch is found, people keep the knowledge to themselves.
As with other precious produce, such as chanterelle and morrel mushrooms for instance, local turf is well guarded to discourage ramblers from helping themselves.
How to Use Fresh Truffles
Although extremely expensive, truffle is used sparingly and just a little shaving of it goes a long way in flavouring the dish. If you do manage to get your hands on some of this ‘black gold‘, here are some simple ways to use this produce - you can turn your humble scrambled eggs into a gourmet dish by adding some truffle shavings to it. Similarly, truffles can be added to risotto to flavour the dish.
Even better, make the most of your fresh truffles by making your own truffle-infused olive oil to pour onto pasta and salad. Truffle connoiseurs will appreciate the flavour of real truffles as opposed to the artificial truffle oils that are commonly sold in shops.