Anchois Roque won Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant (Living Heritage Company) certification in 2020 – and rightly so! After more than 150 years in business, the company continues to take a highly traditional, artisanal approach to processing anchovies from Collioure. We take a closer look.
A long history
From Perpignan, the road heads first towards the coast before heading upward and revealing breathtaking panoramas of the Mediterranean. Welcome to the hilltops of Collioure. And here, in his new workshop, we are welcomed by Malou Roque: "In the past, anchovy processing was an industry that supported at least thirty Collioure family businesses,” Anchois Roque's general manager explains. Taking a mental journey back to the nineteenth century, you can imagine this charming port town in the south of France, “squeezed” between the Mediterranean Sea and the final undulations of the Pyrenees mountains. The pace of life here was dictated by the more-or-less incessant ballet of its 140 or so Catalan-style fishing boats. Using the lamparo technique, which involves attracting fish with light, the fishermen of yesteryear hunted down the small blue-gray fish by night and, having brought their catch back to shore, entrusted it to the skilled hands of the many salters and canners. Business was booming! Indeed, the anchovy salting industry had been there since the Middle Ages and the crucial decision by Louis XI to exempt the people of Collioure from payment of the gabelle salt tax. This golden age lasted for several centuries…
A company with a high profile
Admittedly, a variety of reasons – including the dwindling number of the fish in the Mediterranean – have meant that anchovy production is no longer as prosperous as before. However, two companies are doggedly continuing to uphold the tradition. Even today, the famous little fish – covered by three separate protected geographical indications (for salted anchovy, anchovy filet in brine and anchovy filet in oil) – remains one of the flagship products of local gastronomy. When you’re in Collioure, you can’t miss Roque! In addition to the production site itself, the name is written on the front of five shops, one of which is located on the site of the former workshop, on the road winding towards the center of the village, the beach and the port. The story begins in 1870, when Alphonse Roque set up his business in Collioure as a cooper and salter. Generations have since come and gone, continuing the work of their forebear. Over time, the company has certainly grown, yet has maintained its family character and highly local spirit. The sunny southern Catalan accent punctuates conversations here, both in the shops and in the workshop, where day-to-day work remains highly manual.
Handle with care!
There are no sophisticated machines or tools here. No sooner have the anchovies arrived than they are placed in salt for 15 to 24 days, extracting their blood and releasing some of their “juice.” For this operation, time is of the essence. "If the fish is not processed immediately, it could spoil and compromise the quality of our products.” Next, they are gutted and headed by hand, then arranged in a crown shape inside barrels, with salt between each layer of anchovies. A 20kg weight is then placed on this accumulation of layers, enabling the fish to reach perfect maturity and the desired softness over a three-month period. After that, small female hands – much more dexterous than their male counterparts! – bone the fish, leaving only the filets. The Roque family uses this exceptional raw material to produce a variety of products for its customers: Salted anchovies, anchovies in oil, anchovy filets in brine, boquerones (anchovy filets blanched in vinegar), cream of anchovy, anchoïade (anchovy spread), anchovy-stuffed olives, and more. The Roque company logo is everywhere, with its famous Notre-Dame-des-Anges church on the water's edge – and, in case you'd forgotten, the strong Catalan identity of the region in the form of a small blood-and-gold “ribbon.” A journey in itself!