Producer Profiles

Going Organic in Andalusia

Nov. 9, 2012
By Virginia Brown Keyder

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One of the high points of a recent, very rainy trip to Andalusia was a visit to Almazara Caseria de la Virgen, an organic olive farm and mill near Alomartes, about an hour west of Granada. The gra­cious hos­pi­tal­ity of owner Antonio J. Lopez Rodriguez gave me my first view of a fully organic tree-to-market olive oil oper­a­tion. A guided tour of the trees, the machines and the bot­tling oper­a­tion pro­vided an insight into just what is involved in pro­duc­ing organic olive oil.

Bottled under the ‘Ecolomar’ label, Caseria de la Virgen oil comes from 9,800 trees of four vari­eties: Lucio (a rel­a­tively rare vari­ety native to the imme­di­ate vicin­ity) Picual, Hojiblanca and Picudo. The organic Lucio oil I took home is also, unsur­pris­ingly, the one extracted from olives chosen to be cul­ti­vated on Granada’s 52-acre, 5,000-tree grove of Alhambra Generalife nearby.

Sparing the reader the stan­dard­ized organolep­tic ter­mi­nol­ogy (which I do not have the exper­tise to employ anyway), this unfil­tered oil was won­der­ful. Extra-virgin blends from the four vari­eties pro­duced on the farm are also avail­able and sub­ject to the same strict stan­dards required to be cer­ti­fied organic (by Andalusia and by the EU) and pro­tected by the Designation of Origin of West of Granada.

But this is much more than an olive farm; it is a farm school where chil­dren learn about olives, the extrac­tion process and mar­ket­ing of olive oil. After going through the hands-on process with equip­ment scaled down to their size, stu­dents pro­duce olive oil which is then bot­tled with a label of their own designs.


In a time when young people, espe­cially around the Mediterranean, are faced with employ­ment and envi­ron­men­tal crises, and finan­cial con­straints on the abil­ity to con­sume qual­ity foods, such an insti­tu­tion takes on an added impor­tance in pre­serv­ing cul­tural and envi­ron­men­tal qual­ity and a trea­sured way of life. It should be a model for olive oil oper­a­tions around the world.

When I asked Mr. Lopez Rodriguez why he switched to organic some twelve years ago, after three gen­er­a­tions of pro­duc­ing fine olive oil, he told me that if you do some­thing you love, you always want to do it better, and “unless you actu­ally prefer pes­ti­cides and her­bi­cides,” organic is unques­tion­ably better. In a coun­try threat­ened by ero­sion, pes­ti­cide and her­bi­cide pol­lu­tion and fer­til­izer runoff, it is an obvi­ous choice.

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When I asked him about the prob­lem of olive flies, he said it is not as big a prob­lem as pes­ti­cide sell­ers would have us believe and can be dealt with by traps and other local meth­ods. Believe it or not, one common and effec­tive way of deal­ing with flies around the Mediterranean is by hang­ing plas­tic bags filled with water. The flies are repelled (who knows why – it doesn’t matter) by the reflec­tion of light on the water. I’ve seen it myself. Like the choice to go organic, some­times it’s as simple as that.