By Lara Camozzo
Olive Oil Times Contributor | Reporting from Washington, DC
Melgarejo – Aceites Campoliva produces four different extra virgin olive oil varieties: Picual, Frantoio, Arbequina and Hojiblanca, as well as a blend known as Melgarejo Composicion Delicatessen. “We strive to understand each and every one of these varieties so we can adapt the production process in order to get the best out of the olives. Once you really get to know a variety, you can produce a very complex olive oil. That’s what we do; we produce single varieties of such complexity that you may think that they have been blended,” says Andres Martos Medina of Melgarejo – Aceites Campoliva.
Their “remarkably well balanced oils,” are described as “fruity, with a high intensity of green olives, and a slight touch of ripened fruits, hints of green apple, fresh grass, green almond shell and aromatic herbs.”
The company was established in 1995 by the sons of Mr. Francisco Melgarejo and Mrs. Juana Cordero. Along with Marino Uceda, recently retired olive oil professor and researcher, “they have taken an average product to new heights. Their oils are also an inspiration to other producers, because Marino is very well known in the industry and has been working for many years to help others make the best possible oils,” said olive oil expert Paul Vossen.
They were recently awarded “Best Extra Virgin Olive Oil in the category of sweet green fruity oil for 2009- 2010” by the Spanish Department of Agriculture. This award was based on “the professional experience of the Melgarejo team, their passion for extra virgin oils, the high qualification of all its members, and the constant research in order to innovate in every phase of the process.” Also in 2010, their Delicatessen oil received Best of Class and the Gold Medal at the LA County Fair in California. Their olive oils contain a very low level of acidity, ranging from 0.15% to 0.17%, and topping off at just 0.19%.
“What sets Melgarejo – Aceites apart is the passion we all feel about olive oil and the experience and commitment that this family has had over the centuries. We take care of our olive grove year round in order to get the best fruit that we possibly can. That is a very important step. Then we harvest our olive trees at the very moment when the polyphenol curve is at its peak (each year it´s different). We take great care during the transport and with the cleaning of our facilities. In the end, we try to set the production parameters according to the fruit itself (ripeness, variety and so on…).”
In the 18th century the olive mill consisted of a single stone mill and beam press, which was run by Francisco Melgarejo’s great grandfather. Today the mill includes the “most modern machinery, facilities, and technologies for creating extra virgin olive oil and its packaging,” which is produced in the attached
packaging plant in order to “ensure that oil is conserved and bottled in excellent conditions.”
The Melgarejo olive mill is located in Pegalajar, a province town of Jaen. “Our olive grove is situated in the Andalusian mountain range surrounded by pine trees, walnut trees, and holm oak trees. It is very difficult to harvest here, so we do this by hand where we can not pick the olives with machinery. This is much more expensive than harvesting in the low land, however this olive grove has belonged to our family for generations — we have to do our best to preserve it. The prices of our olive oils are based on its quality and production costs. When consumers see a bottle of Melgarejo olive oil, it means this is a real extra virgin olive oil, because we put passion, knowledge, and history in every oil we produce. They will taste a piece of our heritage in every drop. We think that this is the way our ancestors would like it to be.”
“Over the years, we have faced two kinds of challenges: The variety challenge
and the social challenge. The variety challenge is based on the bad reputation of
the Picual variety — Picual is considered the ugly duckling of oils — books tell you it has a very good chemical structure, but medium quality organoleptic characteristics, which is not true. The Picual variety is very complex when you know how to produce it. It can be very sweet with hints of tomato, banana, spices, and mint, and it’s not bitter nor even very pungent,” explains Mr. Medina. The Melgarejo family created the Aromas de Picual project in order to show the world what this olive variety is capable of.
“Another challenge we face is our society. Around here, nobody harvests the olive trees before December. Typically they harvest when the olives are very ripe, however the quality of the oils you get from them may not be good. Many people criticized our methods and even told us that we were crazy, because the yield was very low and the oils would taste awful. Yet we kept doing what we thought was right, and here we are, ‘The best olive oil in Spain.’”
Each year, Olive Oil Times commends the achievements of olive oil producers who make an outstanding contribution to the industry. These individuals or
companies set the standards of excellence for the rest of the industry to follow and
influence the quality, variety, value, and educational information available to olive
Often these leaders have overcome formidable and enduring challenges, or through innovation found new ways to advance olive oil quality in a product range, in their community or throughout the world.
With an eye to the past we recognize the olive oil maker who has managed to preserve or promulgate olive oil’s cultural legacy. Looking to the future, we’re honoring the producer who works to ensure the place of olive oil in our lives and those of generations to come.
The Olive Oil Times Producer of the Year award may be bestowed upon an entire organization or a particular olive oil maker. This recognizes the fact that producing olive oil can be both a collaborative endeavor involving many hands and an individual expression of personal creativity.
Read about the other winners of the 2010 Olive Oil Times Producer of the Year award.