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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Domaine de Marquiliani Corsican olive oil, the best oil you've never heard of

Corsican Olive Oil

I love it when I find something delightful no one else has heard of. The thrill of discovery. That smug sense of satisfaction for being the first. And I bet you've never heard of this one, Corsican olive oil. Domaine de Marquiliani olive oil to be precise.

Ok, well I'm not exactly the first to have found this. Olive oil has been made and enjoyed on the beautiful island of Corsica since 3400 BC. Still, most people I know, even the most hardcore foodies, have never heard of it so I am going to keep the smug, thanks much.

The first time I encountered Corsican olive oil was at Casa Corse, a nice Corsican restaurant in Paris. I'm a bit vague on the meal itself, but I remember the three baskets of bread I ate, as a mere conduit for that marvelous oil they served. I tried to ask the indifferent server what oil they use. Corsican oil, of course, he said, in that gruff reply that could only come from a discommoded French waiter. Not entirely in the mood to press him anymore, I left it at that.

The following weeks I went on a hunt for Corsican oil. I bought pretty much every kind I came across. That's still not adding up to many, mind you, since Corsican oils are something of a rarity even in Paris. I did a taste test in my little flat, and found one I loved the most. It was an oil from Domaine de Marquiliani, which I bought from the little Corsican épicerie near the Opera.

Corsican olive oil is something of an enigma. It has a strong herbaceous quality, almost like that of Tuscan-style olive oil, but without the acidity and that grassy green quality of the Tuscan oil. Part of the reason is the terroir. The hillside of Corsica is covered by the Maquis, the low shrubs composed of rosemary, sage, spiny broom, evergreen, myrtle and other herbs. (In fact, the shrubs cover the ground so well that the French resistance during WWII took the name Maquis as their own.) Olive groves in Corsica grow among these Maquis, and take the herbaceous quality from them.

Domaine de Marquiliani estate has been cultivating olives and producing olive oil since the 18th century. The olive fruits are picked very late, pressed cold, and let rest in the 18C (or 16F) cave for three months at the domaine before being decanted into bottles. The entire process is natural and chemical free, even though the producer, Anne Amalric, once worked as an agricultural chemist for the French government before returning to her roots in Corsica.

Amalric makes oil that has the traditional quality of Corsican oil, that's to say it has the herbaceous quality of the Maquis with a faint whiff of green almond. Her practice of picking very late and very ripe olives to press for oil gives her oil an amazingly supple, round quality and super low acidity, so you could taste all the qualities of the oil without that puckering, acrid acidity -present in so many fashionable oils these days- getting in the way. I just love it.

This oil is my favorite all-purpose oil at the moment. I'm using it in everything. Ok perhaps not in Thai curry, but pretty much everything else. I have two other finishing oils that I use, I'll write about them too soon.

Where to buy:

Direct from the domaine:

Domaine de Marquiliani
Anne Amalric
20270 Aghione
Tél : +33 (0)4.95.56.64.02
Fax : +33 (0)4.95.56.60.61

In the USA:
via Amazon
Bella Cosa Foods.

In Paris:
Comptoir Corse
Métro: Bourse
16, rue de la Banque
Paris (2ème)
Tél: 01 42 96 19 61
et
Lu Spuntinu
Métro: Saint Lazare
21, rue des Mathurins
Paris (9ème)
Tél: 01 47 42 66 52

P.S. Freshness is an important indicator of quality in olive oil, so before you buy from any of these merchants, ask them when the oil was produced. Each bottle of Domaine Marquiliani oil is marked with the date of production. I wouldn't buy any oil any older than two years.

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