huile d'olive france
olive oil

History and origin of French olive oil

History and origin of French olive oil

The olive tree has been cultivated in France and all along the Mediterranean coast for several thousand years. French olive oil began to be produced around 600 BC and has gradually developed considerably. In this article, the Compagnie de l’Huile d’Olive presents the history of olive oil in France and its main characteristics!

Olive oil in France: since when has the olive tree been cultivated in France?

The beginnings of olive oil cultivation in France

The cultivation of the olive tree in France began many years ago. Fossilised olive leaves dating back to more than 8000 BC were found in Roquevaire in Provence. However, at that time, the olive tree was still in the wild. The olive tree was then introduced into the South of France for cultivation by the Phocaeans when Massilia was founded around 600 BC. The olive tree then became a source of wealth in a region with a rather dry and arid climate where it seduced people through its food and medicinal virtues.

Little by little, the cultivation of the olive tree and the production of olive oil spread throughout the Mediterranean region, including the Eastern Pyrenees, the Maritime Alps and Corsica. It was not until the 19th century that the olive tree took off. It then became an emblematic symbol of Provence.


Production and consumption of French olive oil from the 20th century onwards

After the First World War, the culture of the vineyard gains ground on the culture of the olive tree. Moreover, many foreign olive oils appeared on the market, which competed with French olive oil production. Also, in 1956, a terrible frost hit during the winter. This had a huge impact on the olive trees and therefore on the consumption of olive oil in France.

During the 1970s, studies on the Mediterranean diet and the benefits of olive oil led to a revival of its consumption among the French. The 90s then marked the revival of olive growing in France. Olive oil consumption increased fivefold in 20 years. In the same way, the first AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) labels were created in 1994.

Today, French olive oil production represents only 1% of world olive oil production. However, this sector is expanding rapidly with the establishment of new olive groves, the creation of new mills and the conversion of certain olive groves to certified organic farming.


Olive growing regions in France and French olive varieties

In France, the olive tree is mainly grown in the southern part of France. Indeed, these regions benefit from a Mediterranean type of climate which is favourable to the cultivation of the olive tree. Olive oil production is mainly concentrated in 4 regions with specific terroirs:

Languedoc Roussillon
Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur

Since the existence of the appellations d’origine contrôlée, 7 olive oils have obtained the AOC certification:

Vallée des Baux de Provence,
Aix en Provence,

As far as the French olive varieties are concerned, France’s olive-growing heritage consists mainly of the following varieties: Picholine, Aglandau, Grossane, Bouteillan, Lucques, Petit Rabier, Sabine…


Provençal cuisine and French olive oil

Olive oil can be found in various Provençal recipes. It is also a key ingredient in the Mediterranean or Cretan diet. This cuisine is representative of its terroir, with olive oil and olives often combined with rosemary, thyme, lemon, garlic, etc. Traditional Provençal cuisine is generally made from simple products. The secret lies in the way the products are combined to create tasty recipes.

For example, recipes for fish cooked in olive oil can be found all along the Mediterranean coast. These include: bouillabaisse, sardines in escabeche, aïoli, cod brandade, baked sea bream and bass, etc. There are also various recipes for Provençal meat and poultry: chicken with olives, Provençal daube …


La Compagnie de l’Huile d’Olive : sale of quality French olive oil

Do you want to buy quality French olive oil? La Compagnie de l’Huile d’Olive offers you extra virgin olive oil AOC, AOP and Organic. It specialises in the sale of French olive oils produced under traditional conditions, respecting the environment and the health of consumers.

Discover our olive oils, our honeys, our tapenades and our olives:

French PDO & AOC olive oils
Organic French olive oils
French honeys
Olives & tapenades from France