Distillation techniques:

History of steam distillation: Barrème, France

The famous German company Schimmel & Compagnie build this distillery in Barrème in 1905. They were the first to understand the importance of steam distillation for lavender oil, compared to the old water distillation method. ( "feu nu" method, even if this method had been enhanced by putting a separtion between the water and Lavender). The results were: a better quality of Lavender oil and a better yield. The steam generator principle has since that moment gained popularity and is a standard method of distilling actually.
They described in French version of 1899 that in Sault and Villes distilleries used already the steam generator method. (Gild & Hoffmann, 1899, page 736; Laval, Journal de Pharmacie et de Chimie, V.13 (1886), 593,649)

Personal history:

I spent almost 7 years working on a organic farm between Forcalquier and Sisteron, Alpes de Haute Provence, in the seventies.
My focus on Barrème came after a friend gave me, around 1986/87 if I remember it well, a copy of the French version of the book of Gildemeister&Hoffmann, version 1899, which was a incredible source of information about essential oils. (later I was able to find the German book, 3 volumes, 1929, but also to exchange with a distiller another French version of 1929).
I was driving, together with a massage therpeutist from Belgium to Grasse, in march 1998, to attend the first "Symposium International de Médecine Aromatique Intégrée". We first visited some friends in the Sisteron area and took the "Route Napoléon, towards Grasse. My attention arose when I saw the name Barrême and thought immediately about the distillation unit of Schimmel & Compagnie, described in the copy I had, with an illustration of the distillery, with a high stonen chimney.

Image from the English version of the book.

I looked around and saw at once a similar chimney, completely different from the usual style in the Provence!
We stopped and found, close to an old train station, the place and were amazed:
The name on the building was changed from Schimmel & Compagnie to "Mane freres" and two beautiful copper distillation units, just waiting to be admired!

Here you can see what we discovered:


An old map from Gildemeister & Hoffmann, 1929, German version, showinh the places in the south of France were you can find the different qualities of lavendel.
If you can find Florac on the map, then you'll know where I'm actually living (30 km away) , close to another historic lavender place...


Barrème, France wikipedia


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