Growing oil

De ferme en ferme is a nationwide programme of farm visits, and last fall I went to visit a couple of farms in the Montagne Noire, a fair drive from Saint-Chinian.  This year, a new network of farms, much closer to home, opened their doors to visitors.  I went to see two of them on September 10.

First I’ll tell you about my visit to Top Fruits, which was one of the farms I visited that day.  The farm is run by Jim and Sarah Pearce, who – no surprise after reading their name – are from Britain!  If the name isn’t a total giveaway, then the double-decker bus may be!! 🙂

Jim and Sarah started their ‘pick-your-own’ farm well over 10 years ago – they have a great selection of fruit and vegetables.  I’d known about the farm for years, but had never stopped to have a look.  I visited in the afternoon, and the crowds had gotten there before me.  The farm had more or less been stripped bare of ripe fruit!!  All the same, it was impressive to wander around the farm and see the rows upon rows of fruit trees (apricots, peaches, nectarines) and the greenhouses with tidy rows of tomatoes and aubergines!  I’ll be back next year, once the fruit season has started!!

My main visit of the day was Les Roumanisses, near Mailhac, where Nicolas Albert grows aromatic plants.

Nicolas started the farm in 2010, without a background in agriculture, but with plenty of passion and dedication!  Seven years later, this passion was still evident as he was showing visitors around the farm!

Our visit started in the polytunnel, which is the plant nursery where all the new plants are grown.  Nicolas grows all plants on site, and the farm is completely organic!

A large number of different types of herbs are grown at Les Roumanisses.  Here is a selection:

Nicolas had gone to a lot of trouble, providing labels and descriptions for a large number of different plants!

After the greenhouse, he showed us some of the machinery he uses.  Because of the fact that his farm is very unusual in this area, he’s had to make do with and adapt the machines he’s been able to buy.

Nicolas distills essential oils from the plants he grows and harvests on site.  The still had been set up and was ready to be demonstrated with lavender flowers.

The lavender had been harvested earlier in the year, and since Nicolas was still awaiting delivery of his new (larger) still, it had been dried.

The lavender had to be loaded into a large canister that looked a little like a milk churn.

Once full, the lid was screwed on, the canister was fixed in place and connected to the steam boiler and the condenser.

Here it is all ready, with Nicolas explaining how the process was going to work:

The glass container on the table is a separator, which will separate the essential oil from the distilled water.  The distilled water is collected in the large blue container.

Here we are, all ready and waiting for the steam to do its work!

After a little while, steam started to come out of the pipe at the bottom of the condensing unit (on the right), and soon after that the liquid started to flow!!  The smell was wonderful!!

In the picture below you can see the separation of oil and distilled water:

It was fascinating to watch!!  When I think of all the lavender flowers I have mulched in my garden over the years….  Perhaps I should invest in a little still of my own??  Nicolas had a very dinky copper model in his shop:

The shop was very busy during my visit, so it was not possible to get any decent pictures of the products.  Les Roumanisses offers about 10 different essential oils and 16 different flower waters.  The Flower water is the distilled water from the distillation process, which carries a lot of the fragrance of the plant. All the products are available from the on-line shop, from the farm, or from one of the local stockists.

I finished my visit with a lovely glass of chilled rosé wine – cheers!