Tasting Olive Oil In Spain

When you travel in Spain, the olive is prominent everywhere you go. It is a staple in the tapas bars and markets. Travel outside of any city into the countryside and olive trees dot the landscape for miles in every direction. I had many questions about the farming, the maintenance and the sustainability of this vast industry. Having been to Spain twice, I decided it was time to get some answers to all my queries first hand.

A search online led my husband and I to Proyecto Los Aires just an hour drive south of Madrid. This olive farm is relatively small in scale with some 3000 trees that produce the Cornicabra variety, native to the Madrid, Toledo and Ciudad Real regions.

Olive Farm.2


In 2014, Spain produced 6.3 million tons of olives and 1.24 million tons were produced in the form of olive oil.

Guillermo and Laura have a small part of this industry. We met them at their farm on a windy Tuesday morning on our last day in Spain. They took over the farm that had been started by Guillermo’s great-grandfather 200 years ago. They’ve now been farming olives for six years. They are both biologists by vocation and entrepreneurs by choice.

Laura told me the decision came easy to move from harvesting the olives for market to olive oil production. The price of olives currently in Spain is low when you compare it historically. Thirty years ago the market price for olives was 0.60 euro per kilogram and the first year they harvested the market price was 0.28 euro per kilogram. So rather than continue to farm for quantity, they decided to focus on quality and switched production to organic extra virgin olive oil. They also envisioned conducting tours to educate tourists, students, and locals about the organic side of the olive farming industry.

Proyecto11As biologists, they tested the soil and found that it was essentially dead by scientific terms. Nitrogen and nutrients were practically non-existent and the eco-system was not functioning, as it should. Adhering to strict organic standards they introduced organic fertilizers, ladybugs, and a technique to scrape the soil without damaging the olive surface roots. The land responded and by the next years harvest, the ants, the moths, and the birds returned to balance the farm going forward.

I can only describe the olive tree as a craggy, hearty, almost indestructible life form that thrives in a desolate desert environment. When you plant an olive tree, you take the branches and plant them in an X – this is why the base of the tree often looks like four trees have merged as one.

The trees are planted twelve meters apart minimum and spaced on the diagonal to optimize the surface root footage required to sustain the trees growth and production. Guillermo has so much knowledge of the pruning history and concedes it is an ongoing labor of love to understand the science of maintaining the grove as a whole. The Cornicoba olive tree has a high tolerance to draught and frost and acts much like a cactus tree conserving its water reserve throughout the year. The end product is an aromatic fruity oil attributed to the high monounsaturated fatty acid content.

Before every harvest, olive samples are sent to a lab for testing to determine the oil to water ratio inside the fruit. This tells Guillermo and Laura what grade of olive oil can be extracted that year in terms of virgin or extra virgin. Last year Proyecto Los Aires cultivated 2,000 litres of extra virgin olive oil and are projecting double the volume for 2016.

At harvest time they bring in a team of people with a machine designed to shake the olive tree, let the fruit fall onto a tarp and move it quickly from tree to tree. Getting the olives to a processing plant within 6-8 hours is ideal for quality and that doesn’t seem to be an issue as the plants are plentiful in southern Spain. Guillermo expressed his stress the first year lining up and waiting with his crop but has now perfected the timing after forming a relationship with a local processor.

After walking the grove and learning the basics of the trees, Laura set up an olive oil tasting for us at a table in the middle of the field. She has a knowledge that I would compare to a wine sommelier and she is involved with many olive oil tasting panels in Spain and throughout Europe. For now, there is not an official title for this talent.

First we tasted the Lampante olive oil. Laura was very passionate on educating us on how to spot this refined, tasteless, colorless, and commercial olive oil. It is basically an imposter condiment virgin oil, often used to pack sardines and oysters with a high acidity and no flavor. It is portrayed widely on the shelves for sale around the world as virgin olive oil once a minimal blend is added to give it a very slight aromatic flavor. It really didn’t taste like much and I would agree with her that it is the dregs of the production chain and a last ditch effort to sell a low quality oil for consumer use.

Warming the olive oil

Warming the olive oil

Next we tasted their extra virgin olive oil. Laura brought us the oil in cobalt blue tasting cups to first warm in our hands before sipping. I have to say this is the first time I have tasted a real pure organic olive oil on its own without dipping it in bread or having it drizzled on a dish. It was a surreal experience to let the flavors linger while sitting in the middle of the olive grove amongst the trees it came from. It tasted velvety and smooth with a medium intense bitter pepper flavor, a fruit finish and a slight burn on the throat as it went down.

Proyecto3The tour finished off with lunch in the grove by offering us a taste of local organic food. We all sat down together and enjoyed a spread of pumpkin morcilla (blood sausage), partridge paté, olive tapenade, manchego cheese, chorizo sausage, endive with their olive oil dressing (a recipe created by Guillermo’s friend and chef from Canmore AB), baguette with fresh tomato (pan con tomato). All were paired with a delicious local, organic red wine.

Sitting with Laura and Guillermo over lunch chatting about their endeavor to take on the farm was truly inspiring. They are young and passionate and their plan is to continue to produce a high quality, extra virgin olive oil for many more years. The experience of going to their farm was a highlight of my visit to Spain. Their vision is to deliver an experience to educate, taste and open up a dialogue about organic olive farming in southern Spain was truly unique and one of kind. Just like their extra virgin olive oil.

You can visit Laura and Guillermo’s organic olive farm by contacting them through their website: www.proyectolosaires.com

The cost is $24 Euros per person. You can purchase their olive oil in a few specialty shops in Madrid and Toledo, online, or at the farm after the tour.”

Closer to home in Victoria, you can taste and purchase fine olive oils at Olive The Senses in the Hudson market.

– Sherri Martin


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