Of humble origins, like those of the people who have been farming it for centuries, the Manzanilla Cacereña olive is one of the most prized varietals among all those existing in Spain. At present, it is used with equally excellent results by both the seasoning and the olive oil extraction industry. In both fields, there is no rival that can hold a candle to it.
It was in the month of June back in 1922 when, keeping his promise, the King Alfonso XIII left with his court from Madrid towards the north of the province of Cáceres, the most godforsaken land in Spain back then. On his arrival, he observed and felt how human misery had taken over that landscape, as brusque as it was indescribable. That trip would go down in history and the film director, Luis Buñuel, personally made sure to describe Las Hurdes as La tierra sin pan (Unpromised Land) in his famous film.
Nobody knows whether on their respective trips either of these figures ever said the words “well at least they have olive trees”. This will never be clarified, but the truth is that that land, now prosperous, constitutes the epicentre from which the most venerable olive varietal in Spain, and maybe even in the world, began to extend. Obviously, we are referring to the Manzanilla Cacereña, an authentic gem.
Double purpose: oil and seasoning
In their natural setting, many of these trees of modest size and energy, grow practically unattended on hills and mountain slopes, meaning that it is not remotely erroneous to call them ecological. Others, the most centenary of them, blend into the landscape of pine-tree and oak woods, as well as the fig, vine, chestnut and orange tree plantations that climb over the terraces.
At present, around 20 million olive trees of this varietal are dotted all over the province of Cáceres, which shares this figure with some regions of the neighbouring Salamanca towards the north, certain parts of Badajoz in the south, with part of Portugal to the west and Toledo and Madrid to the east.
Strangely enough, in this latter region the seasoning of its fruits is closely linked to the famous Denomination of Quality Olives Campo Real. These exquisite bites are highly appreciated because of how easy it is to separate the pulp from the stone, as well as for their refined and delicate flavour.
In Spain, we have identified around 30 different types of Manzanilla olives. Some are grown in very local settings, while others are more rare. Whatever the case, the Manzanilla Cacereña is the unrivalled queen of them all. This varietal owes its name to its incredible morphological similarity to the apple, as well as the particular position of its stalk. It offers a very low oil production, although this does not alter the fact that the quality of these oils is hard to rival.
The virgin oils obtained from it are fruity and intense, with a high oleic acid content and excellent preservation capacity. As a whole, they are perfect oils which to a large extent are harvested while still green. In short, they are children of the landscape and the work of men without practically any mechanical processes, authentic gardeners of nature in those small villages in which environmentally-friendly and respectful farming is the norm.
A rare asset
The Manzanilla Cacereña single varietal oils are not readily available among the supermarket promotions or sold in bulk by exporters, On the contrary, these oils are produced in small, clean and modern mills, which in some cases have even preserved their ancestral mills and occasionally transformed them into museums.
If a bottle of oil of this varietal ever falls into your hands, remember that the work of a small producer shelters behind it, inviting you to savour an exquisite juice and to enjoy the sensation of being immersed in a beautiful landscape in which people love and respect olive trees. In short, give yourself up to the same experience that almost 100 years ago figures such as Buñuel or Alfonso XIII neglected to mention.
I have no doubts. I still remember one night, while half asleep, a voice whispering in my ear that if olive trees could only speak, they would definitely nominate the Manzanilla Cacereña as their universal ambassador.
The main characteristics of the extra virgin olive oils of the Manzanilla Cacereña varietal:
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