A Land of a Thousand Flavours
Provence is a mecca for specialty foods. Whichever season you choose to visit, our region offers the possibility of endless culinary encounters. Here are just a few of the region’s specialties…
There are a hundred different varieties of olives in the world. From Nice to Arles alone, we cultivate a few dozen. Some olives are best enjoyed for eating, like the Aglandaou, the Grossanne or the Picholine (the most common variety in France) and others are specifically grown for their oil, such as the Bouteillan (mainly grown in the Var) the Négrette or the Vermillion. However, a few can be both eaten and used for oil, such as the Salonenque that is found almost exclusively around Salon-de-Provence.
In fact, olive oil is a pure natural fruit juice. Provence olive oils are renowned for their ‘fruity’ quality influenced by the soil, crop variety, maturity reached by the fruit during its collection and the oil extraction method. There are three different types of fruitiness: green fruitiness, ripe fruitiness and black fruitiness. In the first, olives are picked early and herbaceous (‘grassy’) sensations dominate the aromas. In ripe fruitiness, olives are picked ripe and local fruit flavours (almonds, plums, apples, etc.) take over. Black fruitiness differs from the first two in the sense that there are neither vegetable nor fruit flavours, instead, you can clearly distinguish notes of cocoa, mushroom, vanilla and/or candied fruit. The bitterness gives way to a smooth and supple oil.
As well as being delicious and a perfect addition to almost everything that is good, olive oil has also great health benefits. It’s a basic ingredient of the ‘Cretan Diet’, also known as the famous ‘Mediterranean diet’ - based on a diet rich in grains and starchy vegetables, nuts and olive oil - which a number of studies have shown excellent for life expectancy.
The Provence cheese flavours come from the diversity of terrain as well as a high-quality artisanal cheese making process. The region is not well known for one particular cheese rather offers a wide variety to choose from. Across a diverse landscape - from the plains of Crau to the mountains of the Hautes Alpes via the Mediterranean coast - Provence cheese is usually made from sheep’s milk, however two of the most famous cheeses of the region are goat cheeses. The famous Brousse du Rove (of a coastal village near Marseille) is made from goats that share the same name. This is a rare, very fragrant product, which can be eaten sweet or salty, and pairs really well with (among others) the fiadones, lemon pastry (a specialty from Corsica). The other renowned goat cheese is Banon Provence; crafted in the Alpes de Haute-Provence on the sunny slopes of the Montagne de Lure, dear to the famous French writer, Giono. This cheese has an incomparable smoothness and is presented wrapped in dried chestnut leaves and bundled together by strands of raffia grass.
There’s no need to introduce the star of Aix-en-Provence, this delicious sweet blends candied fruit – where melon dominates - and blanched almonds, complemented by a sugar syrup. Covered with royal icing and resting on a host leaf, the calisson brings joy to every gourmet, the first of which was the queen Jeanne de Laval. The sweetness of this candy like no other finally drew a smile on her unhappy face the day of her marriage to King René in 1454.
The Southeast is one of the first beekeeping regions of France. The honey production is mainly organized around family operations with a connection to the local land. The mild climate of Provence allows for a rapid development of bee colonies in the spring. The very rich flora makes for a wide variety of production over a period beginning in February / March for rosemary, to September / October for heather. Now protected by a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication), the appellation (certification) of Provence honey guarantees its origin and quality. The lavender honey alone accounts for half of the regional production. With a delicacy second to none, a honey producer can receive the coveted Label Rouge, granted only to certified, high quality products.
The quintessential Mediterranean fruit, the fig thrives under the Provençal sun. With an easy, undemanding nature, (as long as it’s not in the shade and gets water), the fig tree is a robust long-term producer. Between Toulon and Hyères, in the Var department, the Solliès fig (AOC) benefits from a special microclimate. Fully harvested by hand, this beautiful flattened, top-shaped fruit has a dark purple skin and a flesh colour anywhere from a pink raspberry to a deep red. A pure delight enjoyed from mid-August to mid-November.
The Haut-Var department produces two kinds of truffles: the black truffle (Tuber Melanosporum) and the white truffle (Tuber Aestivum). The first, by far the most famous, is harvested in winter and the second in summer. To appreciate this sublime underground mushroom, we recommend that you take the road of the same name (‘La Route de la Truffle’) from Rians to Mons, through Aups and Lorgues. A few steps from Verdon, and you can visit the unique mood of a truffle market— an experience you don’t want to miss! Festivals dedicated to rabasse (another name for the ‘nose’) take place in January in Aups, in February in Lorgues or Les Arcs-sur-Argens. The list is long for the dishes that the famous ‘black diamond’ of mushrooms can be used in.