Visiting the olive tree museum in the village of Mées is to encounter an olive growing tradition and a family business whose history begins in Nyons (Drôme) in 1885. The place offers an immersion into the time as well as the discovery of know-how never denied over the years, with the recognition of an AOP in 1968.
The legend of the Penitents
With my wife Sabine, we have been used to exploring the roads of France for several years during the summer. In search of freshness, nature, a change of scenery and simplicity, we decided to go this summer to discover the wild beauty of Haute Provence and its many green valleys. A glance at Maps and we quickly come across the “Pénitents des Mées”.
“Wow!! But what is this thing ? » The jagged shape, the golden color, the disproportionate size, emerging from the forest on the hillside... It's so surprising that we wonder if it's real or a film set... We immediately fall under the spell and we say to ourselves that we have to take a closer look at it.
Direction the village of Les Mées; rightly made famous by its “Penitents” which stand more than 100 meters high and 2.5 km long. A true geological curiosity, a very popular legend says that these rocks are in fact monks (Penitents) transformed into stone, punished after admiring the beauty of young Moorish people passing through the valley at the time of the Saracen invasions.
land of olive trees
We were not disappointed to have done this beautiful ride. The passage on the ridges took our breath away. On one side, the vertigo of the cliff which seems to literally devour the village, like a titan from mythology, and on the other, the canopy of pines and oaks which give the impression of a plant cushion.
The most amazing thing is to see that these stone giants are in fact just an immense aggregate of pebbles welded together by sand… Nothing moving for all that… just moving.
The Pays des Mées is a magnificent territory of nature and authenticity; in the middle of wooded hills, an immense plain bursting with fruit trees, lavender and several tens of thousands of olive trees which make it rich.
These majestic trees with their spreading habit, convulsed trunks and silver leaves faithfully camp in this setting of scents and colors, and stretch for kilometers all around the town.
Amazed by these expanses of green colors, sometimes pale and silvery, sometimes deep and frank, Sabine and I are piqued with curiosity. We head to Moulin des Pénitents, the former Mées olive oil cooperative, located at the exit of the village near the fire station. Today this space is owned by the Richard oil mill, which brings together three different AOPs.
In a large, cool and shaded room, you have free access to the Eco-museum of the olive tree: a space steeped in history with its collection of period tools and objects. The signs give detailed explanations.
Finally, we learned all about the evolution of olive oil making over time.
Each oil has its mystery and a manufacturing secret that we can try to guess thanks to its cocoa or buttery aromas or even candied olives or undergrowth scents...
“Oil in the mouth”
As you flit from one corner of the eco-museum to another, slowly, you can't stop thinking about tasting products to come. And me, I already have the "oil in my mouth"... Yes, a tasting is offered to discover all the flavors of this olive-growing land.
We then go to the counter where Cécile, saleswoman at the mill and a real enthusiast, has already placed a few samples so that we cannot see the labels. A blind tasting.
Delicately, Cécile pours the oil into the spoons and lets us taste before giving explanations. “Hmmm”…. How many times would I say “hmmm” during this tasting. The fragrance changes in turn: although the texture remains the same, each oil has its own true character. We go from sweet to spicy, to fiery and back to fruity and again towards spicy…. As many flavors as clever preparations, a delicious bouquet, our taste buds full of colors.
Cécile gives us clues to recognize the ingredients and manufacturing secrets. “Sweet, fiery, herbaceous”, she tells us how an AOP is acquired; what are the guarantees of quality of olive oil and above all how to preserve and use this precious nectar.
It was a tasty day, in every sense of the word. A magical walk through the most amazing landscapes and a discovery of no less delicious local oils.