Monday, January 25, 2016

Walnut Oil

Closing the heavy wooden door behind us we shut out the sound of rushing river water and left the heavy mist blanketing the world outside. We have entered a dimly lit space with muffled sounds. The air is humid, but warm, the walls are white cut stone with streaks of green mold and there are unfamiliar machines placed around the single room. The distinctive odor that lured us from the car is even stronger here, so thick we truly can taste it. Vermonters may be guessing this to be a sugar shack with maple sap bubbling away, but this smell is not rich and sweet. This smell is rich, old, and earthy. Rich as only smells of the damp winter earth can be. We have entered the old mill of Rochereuil down stream from Bourdeilles on the Dronne River. We are here to collect this year’s supply of walnut oil. 
Three or four men stand around a steaming stone cauldron, their conversation muffled in the thickness of the air. From them we get a quick once-over to see if we are friends or visitors, and a amiable bonjour from all. One man is working and the others are clearly here for an afternoon outing and a chat. The working man, also the owner of the mill, stops his steady turning of a pasty brown mash in the cauldron to greet us. He finds slips of paper laid out by his wife that show the orders we placed last week. Walnut oil is in limited production this year and we  have had to wait for a call to say that enough extra had been pressed to be able to fill our last minute orders. I have brought two juice bottles to be filled with the precious gold elixir. My friends have brought two liquor bottles. The miller sniffs their bottles and makes a joke about the secret flavoring their walnut oil will have.

The oil pours like flowing honey from a spigot into our assorted bottles. Each bottle is carefully re-corked, and handed back with clear instructions to be sure to store the oil in a cool dark place. Light will turn the oil rancid.

Someone asks the miller how much walnut oil he will consume this year. Clearly not a question he had been asked before, he laughs, reflects for a moment and tells us actually not very much.   Because he is not a big fan of salads, the dressing of which, is the reason why most most people buy his oil. He will be eating his walnut oil drizzled on green beans and other steamed vegetables, mixed in a simple salad dressing accompanied with slices of goats cheese, or as a secret ingredient in some special desserts. He’ll go through 3 or 4 liters in a year, but he has a client, clearly a big salad eater, that buys 10 to 12 liters each year, none will be shared as gifts.

The conversation turns to the troubles with this year’s walnut harvest and then to the troubles with the local honey production and how to protect one’s bee hives from invading wasps. These are familiar conversation among folks that count on the land and mother nature for a living. There is no predicting a steady income and the work is tedious. We are buying a labor of love as well as a delicious oil.

The miller excuses himself to go back to tending the mash roasting over the fire. We quietly linger a bit longer to soak up the atmosphere before finishing up this year’s adventure to the walnut mill. We will want this moment to return to us on hot summer days as we eat our salads and savor those garden fresh beans sprinkled with this golden nectar. We’ll raise a glass in hopes that the sun and rain will be balanced out just right for the maturing walnuts hanging green in the local orchards and to their future as next year’s harvest.


P.e, said...

Love this post because you have captured my favorite kind of adventure....a trip to a small local source for something special.

Kathie Kerler said...

Fascinating! Great visuals.