A stone’s throw from Villa Ndio, the Huilerie Sainte Anne is a picture of technology in transition. There you will find the relics of ancient methods of extracting oil from olives; the mix of old and new technology and methods currently in use; and a brand new building full of shiny new machines and control panels for modern techniques. Tucked in off the Route de Draguignan, the main road running west out of Grasse, this milling operation is housed partly in buildings hundreds of years old, and one brand new one.
Many visitors head straight for the boutique, with its wide variety of olive oil blends, soaps, tapenade, and products made from the wood of olive trees. But on request, visitors can enjoy a tour of the facilities, and then end the visit with an informed stop at the boutique.
The grounds – ancient buildings and artifacts
The grounds around the buildings are rich with artifacts and architectural constructs that were part of the ancient processes. Plans are underway to restore the old mill system, in place, much as it was in centuries gone. This includes the old water wheel and the trenches and troughs that deliver the water, and the mechanisms that turn the stones in the large stone vats. One can peek into the dark openings to see the channels where water ran to and from the now silent and dry water wheel. The sunlight casts warm colors on the foliage partially hiding these old passages and doorways.
Artifacts include old wheelbarrows, sledges, grind stones, gear works, presses and filters, conveyances and old pottery urns for aging the olive oil.
The old process
The tour starts in a room a few steps down from the dirt roadway out front. Along the wall on the left of the room are some old stone vats that once had mill stones turned with water power, delivered by the old water wheel just on the other side of the wall. The tour guide explains how, with the old technology, the olives were ground into a paste in the stone vats. Power to turn the large mill stones now comes from modern electric motors. Fresh water is brought in from the regional canal and waste water is expelled down the same troughs used when the water wheel was proving the power. Once crushed for a carefully monitored amount of time, removing much of the water in the olives, the paste is then arranged in baskets made of a special fiber material and placed in stacks under a large screw press. The power for the press, once turned manually, is now supplied by electric motors.
Current methods for extracting the oil make use of the large press with a wooden frame shown in the photos included here. The olives are placed in special baskets under a large screw that is sent downward by an electric motor. The olive skins, pulp and pits form crusty cakes that are used as fertilizer and as fuel.
The New Process
The old pottery urns make way for shiny new aluminum cylinders for aging the olive oil. But first the olives are ground in steel drums before stirred slowly for a time and then placed in centrifuges to squeeze out unwanted liquids.
In the boutique you can sample the different types of olive oils produced at this mill and others, as well as olive oils that have been blended with a variety of herbs and spices. The boutique also offers tapenades and other olive based spreads, soaps made with olive oil, and many wood products made from olive wood, including cutting boards, salad servers, mortars and pestles, and other lovely provençale fare.
If you have a harvest from your own olive trees you can bring it here to have it pressed into your own olive oil with your own label. This we intend to do in the near future, as Villa Ndio has 16 olive trees on its terraced land.