Organic Olives in Tunisia
Our Tunisian Trade Mission continued its mid March journey onward to the Jougar region, which is a mountainous area filled with forests of Aleppo pine, wild rosemary and thyme. There are fields of olives here punctuated by small plantations of almonds, as well as a relative abundance of water when compared with other parts of the country.
Our destination was about 20 km from Thuburbo Majus to Ksar Ezzit Domain, which at 440 hectares (nearly 1,100 acres), is the largest organic olive farm in Tunisia.
Our tour bus pulled into the main area of Ksar Ezzit where ostriches greeted us to the right and horses, donkeys, and free range fowl greeted us to the left. Beautiful chickens and deep blue guinea fowl scratched happily among the horses, and frisky tom turkeys strutted and danced for their hens.
Just beyond the birds and animals were rows of new high density olive trees. Planted much more closely together than conventional orchards, but not so intense as super high density (SHD) fields, Ksar Ezzit sports 55,000 new trees which produce extra virgin olive oil controlled and certified by ECOCERT, an international organization based in France which covers 80 countries and about 30% of all organic products worldwide.
Soon 4WD vehicles started arriving and we were ferried over steep unpaved terrain past more olives amongst which were planted lavender and wildflowers. Bee hives were also seen nearby.
We tumbled out of our SUVs and Celebrity Chef, Mr. Rafik Tlatli, greeted us at a stylishly sleek new restaurant, introducing himself as our culinary guide for the week. Here, Ksar Ezzit’s kitchen presented a 12 course feast expertly prepared and graciously served.
After our tour of the rentals, a central building was opened and we saw some antique equipment utilized in the traditional esparto mat technique of pressing olives, which typically yields a defective oil per International Olive Council standards. When queried, we were assured that the olives were milled at a modern facility nearby, and that the presentation showing esparto mats was only a nod to history and not a reflection of modern Tunisian milling methods, which we would see throughout the balance of the week.
Chilled as twilight deepened and compliant as lambs we trundled back onto our bus and drove to the next town, the holy city of Kairouan, where another special dinner and musical entertainment awaited us at Hôtel La Kasbah, site of a rather grand and imposing former military fortress and stepping off place for tomorrow’s Tunisian adventure.