Gentle Reader: Several years ago, I had the good fortune to spend 10 days in Provence France on a wine and food tour. I knew I was entering a different world when, during the flight into Marseilles, passengers were served brie and tomato sandwiches. Yes, French bread, butter and fresh basil. From that day forward, I’ve almost always had a good brie in my house.
Our group stayed in a bucolic Gites de France called L’Ecole Buissonnière. It is a 300-year old restored farmhouse or “mas” in the Provencal countryside near Vaison la Romaine.
Each day we ventured out to visit the different vineyards such as Beaumes de Venise or Gigondas. Lunch was always at a different café then off again to villages, historic sites, and the street markets. The traditional weekly street markets, “le marché,” are held in a different village each day. A typical shopping list will take you to a different village, depending on where the market is that particular day.
Each evening we returned to the mas with a few of our favorite wines purchased at a vineyard tasting room, a few cheeses from le marché and we enjoyed a rustic dinner prepared by our hosts. We’d recount impressions of our adventures like the famous Abbaye de Senanque, a Cistertian community of monks whose buildings date back to the 12th century.
In addition to the region’s endless fields of grape vines and lavender there are amazing stands of olive trees which are also the stuff of legends. Small and craggy, some –protected of course, date back hundreds of years. On visiting one little shop specializing in all things olive, I came home with two small bottles of the greenest EVOO I’d ever seen and a couple of olive wood kitchen utensils.
From that day forward, when I’m in need of olive oil, I search and research the internet for the best crop of the season then purchase it by the case. I keep it, cool and dark, in my wine cellar. Like a good wine, I gift a bottle here and there to friends who appreciate it.
Back home on the high plains of North Dakota, my collection of olive wood utensils has grown and I must caution myself occasionally not to let it become an obsession. However, there is something deeply satisfying about cooking with a well-loved wooden spoon and spatula or chopping olives and garlic on that lovely cutting board. Olive wood’s grain is a work of art. It is strikingly heavy and dense with swirls of rich color and markings.
With almost every use I’m reminded of the magic of Provence, the smell of lavender, and sound of Cistercian prayers.