During the June visit, my Dad and I did something touristy and went to visit an olive oil farm in Moncarapacho, called Monterosa. The tour group was shown around by one of the family and was of course fascinating.
Olives have been cultivated for a long time – evidence of pressing olives has been found in Mesopotamia and dated to 6000 years ago. The Romans developed and spread the cultivation across Mediterranean Europe and it continued from there with different strains bred to produce different fruit.
Montarosa is a small-scale family farm growing olives for a high quality extra-virgin oil market. To achieve this, they use a holistic management strategy that prevents any synthetic spraying and reuses any waste products, so for example the waste pulp is composted for fertiliser and the prunings are chipped down for mulch. All extra virgin olive oils have to be free from any defects and have low acidity (0.1 to 0.5) so a sample from each batch has to be officially tested and approved.
The level of care going into production is extraordinary. The olives are hand-picked off the trees by a team of 30 people over a couple of weeks, but only enough at a time that can be pressed the same day. They are picked over to remove any damaged fruit or leaves and then start the cold-pressing process. This involves washing, crushing and spinning the pulp gently so that centrifugal force separates the oil from the water and solids. The temperature of the olives is carefully controlled using icy water (no more than 28 degrees) throughout the whole process. Hence cold-pressed.
After the tour we sat down for the oil tasting: sniffing and sucking through the teeth. Sea salt in between samples to clean the palate. The smell (fresh mown grass?) and the flavour (tropical fruits, peppery kick? Mild or strong?)
And so when faced with a row of different olive oils, how do you choose?
- Choose Extra-virgin: best for salads. Not as important for cooking, although the different oils can impart a different flavour to food.
- Choose one in a dark bottle. The light causes it to oxidise.
- And choose one that has a country of origin. If it says EU, then it will have been bottled in the EU but might contain oil from anywhere in the world.
What is the next big thing in the olive oil industry?
Well, olive oil is already known to be beneficial to health and high in anti-oxidants but now scientists are creating an concentrated oil that acts like a medicine: one spoonful a day.