Raised on Tradition
Since the time Jérôme Blanvillain was 11, the traditions of A L’Olivier have become an inextricable part of who he is and how he lives. In 1978, his father Jean-Claude Blanvillain bought the company, founded in 1822.
Jérôme shared, “When I was in high school, we had the shop in Paris. I was there every day doing my homework in the office and helping in the shop. On free days and holidays, I assisted customers or did whatever I could help with. You smell, you taste, you talk to people . . . you grow up this way and then you realize how it becomes your culture.”
Jérôme went on to study business and marketing. “I wasn’t thinking of joining the company, although my brother, Benoît, had already. I had other plans, wanted to start another company, but my father called me and said we need someone to help us export.” (Some exporting was already in motion, but the demand in the North American market was growing. Customers from New York and London would come to the Paris shop requesting greater access to purchase from home.)
“My father had already begun to broaden sales to the public in Paris, and also to specialty shops and restaurants that wanted to have the oils in their kitchens. Today, specialty shops like The Savory Pantry remain very important to our business.”
Twenty years ago, Jean-Claude retired and left the business in the capable hands of the Blanvillain brothers, who work on different aspects of the business. “Benoît takes care of Paris and Poitiers, and I’m responsible for Nice and Grasse.”
Infusing Oils with Fresh Herbs
“When I joined in 1990, aside from accelerating sales outside of France, I became interested in infusing oils. In 1994, I was researching and really looking for a way to infuse oils with great flavors with herbs. I happened across a man who had invented an infusion process, and when I tasted the results I knew that was what I’d been searching for. There are so many flavored olive oils that aren’t truly infused, and you can tell the difference. We signed a contract with the inventor and became the sole licensee in the world. Across 20 years, until 2014, we worked together under this license.”
By the expiration of the license in 2014, Jérôme had developed his own improved process, which employs vacuum sealing. “Oxidation is never good for oil because it changes the flavor and lessens the health properties, and my process prevents oxidation. It also uses low heat and improved the conditions of maceration. These conditions make for optimum flavor. We also use only premium quality, fresh herbs very soon after they are harvested, and no artificial flavors. The fresh herbs and this process help us keep the tremendous quality and the nutritional value.”
Oils are infused during the peak season for that particular infusion. Lavender, Porcini & Black Truffle, Garlic & Thyme, Basil . . . Can you imagine the intoxicating smells of fresh herbs being macerated? Lucky neighbors.
“Through the end of September is the season for basil olive oil. Every two days our trucks go to artisan farmers, delivering 500 kilos of fresh basil.” For those of us who aren’t agile converters, that’s more than 1,100 pounds of fresh basil being macerated every two days!
“The basil and thyme are wonderful,” Jérôme laughs, “but the garlic can be a problem.”
In A L’Olivier’s Lavender Infused EVOO offers essential oil of fresh dried lavender from Provence fields for a subtle, summery flavor. Neither overwhelming nor flowery, this beautifully herbaceous oil can be drizzled over grilled fish, roasted lamb, pasta, and grilled or roasted vegetables. It is sublime spooned over vanilla ice cream or drizzled over an apricot tart. Woodsy, earthy, and divine, Porcini & Black Truffle Olive Oil uses black truffle essence produced in the town of Grasse, situated on the world-famous Côte d'Azur, known for the production of aromas and fragrances. The oil beautifully enhances risotto, pasta, and potatoes, and lends an earthy flavor and aroma to salad dressings.
Proximity to producers is highly valued at A L’Olivier. “All of our herbs come from farmers close to our facilities."
“Last year we bought an 18th century olive oil mill in Nice which is next to a modern mill. It is open to the public, so I invite you to come visit if you’re in the area. Next to this is a modern mill. Since last year, we’ve started making our own olive oil. We have around 700 olive trees close to the mill in Nice, ranging from about 200–300 years old. In 1956, a devastating frost killed 90% of the olive trees in France. Fortunately Nice, which is very warm, was not affected, so today we’re able to enjoy the fruits of these trees.”
Taste Remains King
What does Jérôme say sets A L’Olivier apart? “Some companies claim ‘this is pineapple, mango, basil,’ whatever . . . on the shelf, it’s not easy to understand the difference in fresh versus frozen or dried. My recommendation for the consumer is to try to understand what is in front of them, and labels can be confusing and misleading. It’s not easy, but the true test is the taste. Always taste before you buy and your pallet will tell you what is happening. Customers buy our products when they taste them because they understand how they will use them. They taste, and a lightbulb goes off. They just understand.”
“One example is tasting the basil infused olive oil. Customers say, ‘Ah! I can use this with tomatoes and with pasta dishes.’ Another is with our vinegars. We began making vinegars in 2006 and this area of our business has grown fast because they are very special. They are almost 45 percent fruit, and you can see that dense fruit when you look at the bottle. They are all quite easy to use in cooking and marinating, aside from using for salads, so they invite new ways of using vinegars. Take the passion fruit, for example—you do scallops in a pan and use the vinegar to deglaze the pan and create a delicious sauce. Slightly sweet and incredibly flavorful, these vinegars are an extension of balsamics because they offer that same thickness and feel.” Other flavors include A L’Olivier Fig Fruit Vinegar and A L’Olivier Raspberry Fruit Vinegar. Less viscous, their Lavender White Wine Vinegar is crisp and clean, and makes an elegant and delicious gift.
What’s next in expanding on tradition? “We are working on a line that will combine our vinegars and oils. The power of these mixed together is really something. A line of salad dressings is coming soon with combinations like basil oil and pineapple vinegar.”
Whether you’re enjoying infused oils or vinegars, at A L’Olivier, “Taste is king. This is not about labels, or driven by concepts. . . our company’s strength is taste. We try every day to bring better taste.”