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The walnut mill is a dark and dusty place. The only light is what streams in from the windows, illuminating the ancient machinery, piles of buckets,and the various gadgets and machine parts cluttered around the room.  The air is similarly full with the creaking of machines and heavy millstones and French voices discussing the business of the day. Despite the fires burning in the corners, the stone walls and floor radiate cold. There’s not much room to move around, and one is constantly pushed aside by the rotation of farmers, coming and going, bringing with them huge sacks of nuts for processing, and leaving with various milk jugs and pails full of oil.  But the air also carries a strong smell of toasted nuts, which is comforting enough to bring a warmth to the atmosphere even when the hot stoves and rough men do not.

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When the nuts are brought to the mill, the first step is to throw them onto the millstone for grinding.

Secondly, The pulp is put in a large vat to be toasted. A common garden rake is suspended above to keep the nuts evenly distributed as they are rotated.

Secondly, The pulp is put in a large vat to be heated. A common garden rake is suspended above to keep the nuts evenly distributed as they are rotated.

Once the nuts are toasted, they are put in a press and squeezed until a fine stream of oil trickles out.

Once the nuts are warm and any moisture has evaporated out, they are put in a press and squeezed until a fine stream of oil trickles into the bucket below.

After the pressing, the process is sometimes repeated, to get the maximum quantity of oil from the nuts. So, back on the stone they go.

After the pressing, the process is sometimes repeated, to get the maximum quantity of oil from the nuts. So, back on the stone they go.

Finally, the oil is ready. It is carefully strained and funneled into buckets to be taken home.

Finally, the oil is ready. It is carefully strained and funneled into buckets to be taken home.

Not my video and not the same mill, but a better demonstration of the process if you’d like to see.

Mild and  nutty in flavor, Walnut oil has been used across Europe since ancient times. In some regions, it was the primary oil used for both cooking and dressing, although it has since fallen a little bit by the wayside for many modern cooks.  As shame, because it’s very healthy–it’s full of Omega-3’s and helpful vitamins, and it adds a unique of flavor you don’t get with your usual oils and butter.

In France, the Perigord region has long been one of the top producers of walnuts. In fact, Perigordian walnuts even have their own appelation, much like wines do, which guarantees their origins and their reputation. While many of them are sold whole, a percentage are also made into this walnut oil, according to the traditional methods (and with the same old-fashioned machinery) as generations past.

While at the mill, we were treated to a delicious lunch featuring these humble little nuts, and I think we would all agree it was one of the best meals we had on our trip. I knew about walnuts, but I don’t think I’d ever really had much exposure to Walnut oil before then, so the experience was eye-opening and delightful.

Even the plainest salad can be dressed up by a simple walnut oil vinaigrette.

Even the plainest salad can be dressed up by a simple walnut oil vinaigrette.

Fun Ideas for Using Walnut Oil:

  • Sprinkle it on a salad.
  • Use it to replace your usual oil in baking…especially for cakes and cookies that already feature nuts. Carrot Cake, or banana bread, perhaps?
  • I wouldn’t suggest cooking with it as it will lose most of it’s flavor and nutritional value, but consider tossing cooked vegetables such as broccoli or green beans in it just before serving, along with fresh herbs and seasonings.
  • Drizzle a little bit into a hearty vegetable soup.
  • Brush it onto fresh bread instead of butter.
  • Use it to season Pasta. In Italy, one regional specialty is a walnut cream sauce that would be simple and delicious change of pace.
  • Some people take a spoonful daily, much like others take fish oil.
  • Add a few drops to a baked potato.
  • Use it on already-nutty flavored winter squash, or other nutty dishes, such as quinoa or rice.

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