Producer Profiles

In Minas Gerais, Production and Tourism Go Hand in Hand

Among the fruit and coffee plantations of Minas Gerais, olive trees have taken root. Despite the region's unconventional climate, local producers are creating a new kind of olive oil culture in Brazil.

Mauricio Carvalho Dias, owner of Fazenda Irarema
Mar. 6, 2020
By Carola Dummer Medina
Mauricio Carvalho Dias, owner of Fazenda Irarema

Recent News

Next to the cof­fee plan­ta­tions and among lush veg­e­ta­tion, olive trees have made their pres­ence known in Minas Gerais, a region north­east of São Paulo, Brazil.

Fight­ing against the weather, but with faith and per­se­ver­ance, pro­duc­ers here have gone all-in on high-qual­ity olive oil pro­duc­tion and oleo­tourism as a way to edu­cate the pub­lic about their prod­ucts.

(The weather) is a real­ity that dis­cour­ages many, but for oth­ers, it moti­vates them to rein­vent them­selves.- Ana Beloto

Shades of green envelop vis­i­tors who arrive in the Sierra da Man­tiqueira of Minas Gerais, three hours east of São Paulo, where palm trees mix with bananas and cof­fee plan­ta­tions to cover the hill­sides. For some years now, olive trees have sought and found their place in this fer­tile and col­or­ful ecosys­tem.

It was a curi­ous land­scape to find this species so asso­ci­ated with a Mediter­ranean cli­mate dur­ing a visit last month when the har­vest began in Brazil — one of the newest actors in the world of olive oil pro­duc­tion.

See more: Pro­duc­tion News

We found noth­ing resem­bling the olive groves of the Mediter­ranean here. Minas Gerais is any­thing but tra­di­tional, and its olive grow­ing is as sur­pris­ing as its land and peo­ple.

As the Min­ers, as the region’s inhab­i­tants are known, explain, they can have all four sea­sons in two hours, but a few things are con­stant. There will always be humid­ity, too much water, and that a cloud will dis­charge all its fury in the mid­dle of the har­vest is more a cer­tainty than a pos­si­bil­ity. But then the sun rises, a rain­bow appears and, well, who can resist that?

Sierra da Mantiqueira, Brazil

So we for­get every­thing we know about the olive tree — water stress, ther­mal oscil­la­tion, plant­ing frames — and we allow our­selves to be sur­prised because the truth is that about 10 years ago, the pro­duc­ers in this area — one of the most famous ter­roirs for the cul­ti­va­tion of cof­fee — began to plant olive trees.

It has been a cou­ple of years since then and the oils pro­duced in the region have gained ground in inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions.

One pro­ducer, Fazenda Irarema, who won a Gold Award at the 2019 NYIOOC for its blend, is 12 kilo­me­ters (7.5 miles) from Poços de Cal­das, an area known for its vol­canic soil and ther­mal springs which attract a large num­ber of tourists on week­ends.

Here, the Car­valho Dias fam­ily set­tled forty years ago. Mon­ica had a dream to live in the area near her cousin. At first, her hus­band, Mauri­cio, insisted there was noth­ing to buy there, but even­tu­ally gave in and the cou­ple arrived at what would become their new home.

The fazenda, founded in 1870, had been com­pletely aban­doned for five years when they arrived. Today, it is com­posed of neat, well-kept fields, where fruits, veg­eta­bles, nuts, one of the most awarded cof­fees in the world — and olive oil — are grown and pro­duced.

The com­bi­na­tion of the land­scape and pro­duc­tion process led the Car­valho Dias fam­ily to open the doors of their home, and they now receive up to 600 vis­i­tors at Fazenda Irarema every week­end.

The expe­ri­ence is com­plete, includ­ing the chance to see the agri­cul­tural process and visit the farm shop where soap and other cos­met­ics made with the oils and its byprod­ucts are pro­duced and sold.

Next door to the farm is Bemdita, a pre­mium meat shop, pro­duced in the area under strict care and man­aged by Carol, whose hus­band, Moacir, the son of Mon­ica and Mau­rí­cio, directs the oil mill, man­ag­ing each machine and con­trol­ling each extrac­tion.

Moacir Carvalho Dias

His sis­ter works in the adjoin­ing restau­rant, where tourists enjoy local prod­ucts paired with oils. Even the grand­chil­dren, the third gen­er­a­tion, par­tic­i­pate by sell­ing fruits that they col­lect them­selves.

Mau­rí­cio knows every inch of the field, and weighs new meth­ods and tech­nolo­gies to improve the pro­duc­tion and qual­ity of the fruit; a real chal­lenge due to the cli­mate and abun­dance of pests.

Neigh­bor­ing Irarema is the Fazenda Rainha, where the famous Orfeu cof­fee is pro­duced and, some years ago, olive oil too.

The project, owned by the Mar­inho fam­ily who con­trols the media giant O’Globo, is in the process of launch­ing its brand. Here, the har­vest is done in the tra­di­tional way on land that, besides being incred­i­bly green, is also moun­tain­ous.

The cost of pro­duc­ing in Minas Gerais is high, between $5 and $6 per liter, and there­fore, the prices of the oils are also high.

Brazil pro­duced 230,000 liters in 2019, and 40 per­cent of the total came from this region (the other 60 per­cent was pro­duced in the south of the coun­try).

In 2020, pro­duc­tion in the area will be 30 per­cent lower than in 2019. Fungi and strong hail storms in the flow­er­ing sea­son have impacted the har­vest.

It is a real­ity that dis­cour­ages many, but for oth­ers, it moti­vates them to rein­vent them­selves, cre­at­ing expe­ri­ences, such as oleo­tourism, which are new in Brazil and allow us to cre­ate a cul­ture of olive oil,” said Ana Beloto, a taster, colum­nist and mar­ket­ing expert, who has been intro­duc­ing olive oil brands in the region for 18 years.

We have to advance in edu­ca­tion so that peo­ple know, value and con­sume good olive oils — a path that is not easy, but it is totally pos­si­ble,” she added.

A few kilo­me­ters away, Carla Bor­riello, explained that the pro­duc­tion in Minas Gerais points to dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion. She has already man­aged to intro­duce her oil, Bor­riello, in some of the most impor­tant restau­rants in São Paulo.

Her prob­lem is not sell­ing the oil but rather the small vol­ume she is able to obtain — barely 2,000 liters are expected in 2020. She believes there are great oppor­tu­ni­ties for olive oil pro­duc­ers in the coun­try, which despite hav­ing very low per-capita con­sump­tion (less than one liter), has a large urban pop­u­la­tion will­ing to pay for qual­ity.

In a mar­ket dom­i­nated by low-grade indus­trial brands, she noted, there is an oppor­tu­nity to build on the high qual­ity of local pro­duc­tion.


Related News