“Thyme is aromatic all year round but medicinal only when it is in bloom at the end of May. »Leaning over his large bag filled with sprigs of wild thyme, which grows naturally in the hills, Yves Raffatelli, pillar for forty-two years of the Distilleries and estates of Provence in Forcalquier (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence), appreciated this Thursday morning the quality of a harvest whose date was fixed at the last moment, depending on the weather.
“This picking is traditionally a celebration that ends with a big meal, all the employees participate in it, but for two years, with the pandemic, it is much more complicated,” says Lucie Marenco, master macerator who came to lend a hand to this meticulous collection. It takes a long time to pick up enough weight, but there are many of us. After the period we have just spent, being outside, in nature, and picking this thyme is an exceptional moment. The traditional meal, reduced this year, is reserved for people with a negative PCR test.
“Part of the harvest will be distilled directly into liqueur and another will be infused,” says Sébastien Stoppa, master picker, by baking thyme.
Fifteen drinks on arrival
“At flowering, this is when the plants have the most fragrance. The thyme must be perfectly cut during the collection: we do not need wood in our preparations. Then we let it dry for a week indoors, turning it twice a day, ”explains Sébastien Stoppa, in charge of the distillery.
The big hundred kilos of wild thyme picked with secateurs in hand in these hills of the foothills of the Alps will be used all year round to produce Farigoule, a digestif made from this symbolic plant of Provence, but also to become one of the sixty ingredients in the composition of the flagship product of the range, pastis Henri Bardouin, and even to be found in the gin recipe… An essential part of the fifteen drinks made in the Forcalquier factory, including absinthe-based liqueurs that meet a great success on the New York market for ten years.
Known for its antiseptic qualities in infusion, thyme is also used in cooking. “We grew up with thyme infusions, bouquets offered to the brides … It is our tradition here and we are specialists in the use of local natural resources”, summarizes Alain Robert, CEO of a distillery created in 1898, which employs around 40 people and exports half of its 1.3 million bottles annually to 80 countries. “We are in a niche market, that of artisanal and quality products. This annual thyme harvest is proof of this. “