In Provence, people still talk about the devastating frost of 1956. The after-effects of one of the harshest winters Europe ever saw can still be seen in broken, mangled olive trees that amazingly, still bear some of the tastiest olives in the world.

According to local legend, one February night temperatures nosedived from a balmy 21°. As spring was approaching, the olive trees’ metabolism was kicking back in. Their sap was rising up the trunks, until brutal minus 17° night-time temperatures froze the sap solid.

Legend has it that on the day the frost ended, the olive trees “cried” as the sap erupted at such velocity, it cracked the tree trunks in two.

It wasn’t just France that was affected, much of Europe was overwhelmed with bitter cold and ‘The Snowfall of the Century’ – just along the Rivera, lemon trees were in a similar crisis in Italy.

Some of the Luques and Picholine trees were a thousand years old, so we can reasonably assume that it must have been the coldest winter for a millennium… but for many of them, it was to be their last. Only 1/3 of Provencal trees survived, changing the French farming landscape forever.

Crestfallen but determined to bounce back, most of the French olive farmers planted grapes instead. But not all of them…

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Fighting for the next thousand years of petit luques and picholines

The L’Oulibo Cooperative who helped the French olive industry get back on its feet. These were men and women who fought for the region’s historic olive culture and ensured that a cadre of growers stayed in business, upholding the Languedoc’s reputation for producing some of the most delicious olives in the world.

Formed in the Aude region of Languedoc Roussillon, L’Oulibo is the Aude’s only olive co-operative, with nearly 1700 members. Led by its President Pierre Marti, it offers a key source of support for local olive growers.

Olives trees are good for the local landscape too, not just economically, but also preventing soil erosion – and lots of people would say the silver-grey trees enhance the vista too, despite – or maybe because of – many of them having a battle-hardened look all their own, with a story to tell.

And however cracked and injured they may look, they are still fruitful, thanks to the hard work of Pierre le Présidente and the L’Oulibo Cooperative.

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Petit Luques are a beautiful, elliptical olive with a stand-out creamy flavour

Belazu and L’Oulibo: partners since 1995

Our quest to find high quality, varietal olives, processed at source, first brought us to L’Oulibo in 1995 and we have been buying Lucques and Picholine from them ever since. A great deal of care goes into both growing and producing these rare and elegant green olives.

They are hand sorted, with damaged ones discarded, and classified according to size. They’re cured for 10 days in water and sea salt, then refrigerated, to prevent fermentation.

Crucially, they’re never ever pasteurised, which would cause havoc with their trademark creamy flavour.

This leaves us with crisp, crunchy table olives with a subtle, sophisticated taste all their own.

And every time we taste them, we’re glad the L’Oulibo never gave up, despite being struck with maybe the biggest challenge a grower could ever face.


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