Let's go and meet Frédéric, inspired producer and happy owner of a unique place that has stood the test of time, the Moulin de Donzy.
He tells us all about the history of the local expertise that has been kept alive through the years at this place, that has become a must-see of the region!
The Moulin de Donzy, a historic place
I bought this mill in 2012, and this year it will be 200 years old! Walnut and hazelnut oils have been produced here for over 150 years. First it was used as a nail factory, then a mechanical construction workshop, then a cider factory, lemonade factory, to then become an oil mill at the end of the 19th century. During the 20th century, the premises was also used for fishing bait.
A family business...
Madame Pradalier, the previous owner asked me if I wanted to buy her mill in 2006. She was 90 years old at the time and wanted to pass the property on, so it was time to sell it. She had chosen me as the next owner and eventually I agreed to buy it. When she first asked, I refused because my money was already tied up in other investments at the time. Then my sister suggested we pooled together our resources to buy and take over the business, and the house. Our story, as you know it today, started right there!
I believe this is the most beautiful mill in the world. It's a magical place!
... with magical surroundings!
This mill was built in 1820 and is on the Nohain, a river crossing through Donzy. It was built on an island, which is why it is also known as “le moulin de l’île” (the mill on the island)! The house opposite the mill was built by the owners at the same time and it has become a symbol of Donzy. Whenever someone wants to represent Donzy, they use the photo of this house. Today, it is a holiday gite/bed & breakfast.
The magic of the oil mill...
Not all of it, but the vast majority of the equipment we use here is over a century old! We have changed the layout slightly, some of the machines have been moved around, but they all date from the 19th century. When I took over the business, I wanted to make sure the scent of walnut and hazelnut oil continued to fill the air in the streets of Donzy...
It's important to me that the mill remains in operation, because there's extraordinary know-how behind these walls. There's a product, there's equipment that is either unique or extremely rare, and I can't ever imagine that it would all cease to exist.
A seasonal product
Walnuts are collected in autumn. Local people who live within a radius of 100 km around Donzy go to collect them, they dry them out, crack them, sort the nuts and then bring them to us so we can use them at the mill. This represents around 10% of our raw material. For the rest, I have two suppliers, one in Loiret and the other in the Lot-et-Garonne.
The process of making oil
The same process applies for making walnut oil or hazelnut oil. First the nuts are crushed using the millstone, then the paste is heated to draw out the moisture. This helps to preserve the oil as best as possible and produces a specific flavour. The final step is to put this paste through the presses, to extract the oil.
Fréderic will guide you...
When autumn comes...
I particularly like the climate in autumn in Burgundy. You can still go outside in a t-shirt, but the temperatures are much milder. There's a light breeze, that will gently knock the walnuts down from the trees, marking the beginning of the harvest. The river gets slightly rougher, which is good news because we need water to turn the mill! If I had only three things in mind to describe autumn, they would be the grape harvest, mushrooms and jars, to prepare for the coming winter.
An autumn walk...
If I had to recommend one walk, it would be to go from Châteauneuf-Val-de-Bargis to Cessy-les-Bois, via Bondieuse. The forest here is very pretty in autumn, the leaves change colour and the sunrays make it a wonderful sight. At sunset, there are some absolutely superb colours!
If you're looking for somewhere to stay in autumn, I recommend going to Les Tramois. It is a small hamlet of Donzy, where you'll find a farm/gite with a natural, woodland atmosphere, and there are some atypical rentals to stay in. The gypsy caravans and heated cabins are particularly pleasant for a week or a weekend in autumn.
If you're looking for somewhere to eat, I recommend the restaurant Le Grand Monarque, also in Donzy, run by chef Marc Mercier. When he was at high school, he threw his school bag in the river and said he didn't want to learn, but he ended up learning how to cook. I recommend going to his restaurant, and while you're there, ask him where his school bag is!
I also like going to Angélus in Clamecy, where chef Cyril Girault concocts his dishes using seasonal products.
I also recommend going to meet Virgile Vaurette. He is a stonemason in La Collancelle, on the banks of the canal. He will tell you all about the traditional houses of the Nivernais region and the various decorative objects he makes.
Meet other passionate locals
These locals contribute to showcasing our beautiful region, each in their own way. Thanks to their input, their advice and their recommendations, they are the ideal ambassadors who will make sure you don't miss out on anything during this key season. For them, one thing is certain, autumn should be spent in Burgundy, nowhere else…