A French tradition
Recreating storied artisan nut-oil heritage.
Written by Elizabeth Penney
Photo by Anna Wick
W oodland may seem like an unlikely spot to carry on the centuries-old Loire Valley tradition of artisan nut-oil production. But for La Tourangelle, it was the ideal place to set up shop.
“We’re in the middle of everything, close to the growers, customers, and transit,” says Matthieu Kohlmeyer, founder and CEO of La Tourangelle in Northern California. “Woodland and Yolo County are agricultural hubs, as the climate and fertile soils lend well to growing high-quality, productive crops.”The French tradition La Tourangelle originated in the tiny French village of Saumur more than 150 years ago, and ownership of it fell to the Kohlmeyer family in the 1990s. The company didn’t make it to the U.S. until 2002, when the Woodland mill opened. Following the French tradition at the new location meant using the same roasting kettles and mechanical press that the company’s founders did in the 19th century. “I wanted to recreate the artistry of the oil mills in France and had custom equipment made to replicate the authentic traditions of oil making,” Kohlmeyer says. “In fact, the cast-iron pots used to roast the nuts came from the mill in France and make a difference in drawing out the aromas and flavors of the nuts.”Just as important was gaining the artisanal know-how gleaned from generations of French nut-oil producers so one such roasting expert trained American staff members. The nuts are roasted and stirred by hand, mechanically pressed and passed through cotton filters to maintain nutrients and flavor. Master roaster Leading the charge at the Woodland mill is master roaster Shawn Hooker, whose decade of experience at La Tourangelle taught him the importance of patience and attention to detail. Ultimately, he says, the company’s success is about the quality of its products. “It takes multiple harvests to know quality, as it can really vary over the years depending on weather and other factors,” he says. “The ideal nut has high oil content. For example, you cantake a walnut, squish it in your fingers, and feel the oil. The other way I determine quality is the aroma. You can definitely smell it for freshness. After every batch, I taste the oils to make sure the flavor is there.”La Tourangelle in Woodland processes more than 600,000 pounds of nuts each year, and its product line now includes more than 25 specialty and organic oils, including walnut, almond, hazelnut, and pistachio. La Tourangelle oils are availableat major retailers, such as Raley’s, Whole Foods Market, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, Nugget Markets, and online at Latourangelle.com.
Elizabeth Penney is a freelance wine, food, and travel writer based in Sacramento. Her work can be viewed at Elizabethpenney.com.