The Mysterious Provence Olive Oil of Norma Kamali (New York Times)

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“What’s the point,” was the bemused reaction of a confrere in the Vaucluse to a first read last fall of an article in the New York Times, “Steal My Vacation: Norma Kamali’s Provence” by Stephanie Rosenbloom. A footnote informed readers that “Steal My Vacation” is a “new column devoted to tastemakers and their favorite getaways.”

Beyond the celeb designer’s anodyne hyperventilations on olive oil in Provence, the vapid and gauzy prose has little to say about Provence and even less about olive oil. It reads like a reverie.

The piece fails to describe the three classes of olive oil: Vierge Extra – Extra Virgin olive oil; Vierge Fine  – Fine Virgin olive oil and Vierge Courante  – Ordinary Virgin Olive Oil. Nor does it mention the three types of olive oil: fruité vert, fruité mûr, and fruité noir, the latter being unique to France.

Olive oil festivals are ignored, as is the place where most visitors can find locally-produced quality olive oils: the farmers’ markets.

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For a soi-disant travel piece, there is no sense of place, as Ms. Rosenbloom did not ask Ms. Kamali the location of the chateau where she resides when visiting Provence (it’s a big area), nor does she inquire about the origin of the olive oil – its appellation and its producer. The location of the chateau and of the producer would compel naming a département and a town.

What the article boils down to is the New York Times offering a platform for Norma Kamali to promote her brand, her store and its website, as well as an olive oil tasting held at the store in November. Note: Reporter Rosenbloom penned a Dec 2011 piece on Ms. Kamali’s beauty products.

Back to my confrere’s question – voici le point faible:

The olive oil sold by Norma Kamali at her Wellness Café on West 56th Street in New York is labeled Provence I, Provence II and Provence III at $58 per bottle. (The same generic category is applied to olive oils from Tuscany).

Although the origins of olive oils from the south of France are delineated by seven AOP’s (L’appellation d’origine protégée) and one AOC (l’appellation d’origine controlée) Provence, which covers other areas in Provence not included in the seven AOP’s, Ms. Kamali does not reveal the AOP or the AOC of the olive oil sold at the Wellness Café, nor the name of the producer.

Curious, PVB made a few calls to the Wellness Café and spoke with two women who were minding the store. Neither woman had the slightest idea about the identity of producer of the generically-labeled Provence olive oils.

Imagine drifting into a wine store, and being offered a bottle of wine labeled ‘Rhone Valley” for $58 without any reference to the appellation or the producer (such a wine label is freak’n illegal in France, and French regulations dictate that the origin of the olive oil appear on the bottle).

For the prices that Ms. Kamali is demanding for what she calls “liquid gold,” shouldn’t she reveal the AOC or AOP as well as the name of the producer?

Or perhaps a gawking NY Times reporter will pierce the bubble of celebrity, and ask the proper question. Bordel de merde, un peu de reportage!

Read: Olive Oil Wars: A Sunny Business with Shady Practices here

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