Consoli Molero (all photos by Pablo Esparza for Olive Oil Times)

A rain of green olives fall to an inverted umbrella unfolded at the base of an olive tree. The tree is shaken once, twice until no more fruits drop.

Then the har­vest­ing machine moves to the next tree, and the next. It’s a fast mechan­i­cal job.

We are at Sierra Prieta’s estate, which, with some 2,000 hectares is one of the largest asso­ciates of the Valedepeñas coop­er­a­tive of olive oil pro­duc­ers (Colival).

Today they are col­lect­ing the early har­vest of the Hojiblanca cul­ti­var. Later in the day, they will bring their olives to the coop­er­a­tive, where they will be imme­di­ately milled.


 

“Valdepeñas has tra­di­tion­ally been a wine land. Nowadays it is also becom­ing an olive oil land,” Consoli Molero, the man­ager of Colival tells Olive Oil Times.

Molero has been respon­si­ble for Colival’s qual­ity and pro­duc­tion for the last 20 years. Her father used to be the mas­ter miller of the coop­er­a­tive.

“I stud­ied com­puter pro­gram­ming and busi­ness. I’ve always lived in the envi­ron­ment of the oil mill, but I never thought I would end up work­ing at the same mill where my dad made oil for so many years,” she says while we walk through Sierra Prieta’s olive grove.

“I’m a num­bers per­son, but curios­ity has made me spe­cial­ize in oil pro­duc­tion and tast­ing. Also because I like it,” she adds.

Valdepeñas’ olive oil coop­er­a­tive was founded in 1979 by a few dozens of farm­ers. Today, it counts 788 asso­ciates.

Molero points out that a coop­er­a­tive should be man­aged in the same way as a pri­vate com­pany.

“The only dif­fer­ence is that in pri­vate busi­ness, prof­its go to just one per­son, while in a coop­er­a­tive, prof­its go to all its asso­ciates — 788 mem­bers who, at the end of the day, are 788 fam­i­lies,” she says.

Colival’s Valdenvero won a Gold Award for its Hojiblanca at the 2019 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

The vast flat­lands of La Mancha, where Valdepeñas is set, lie North of Jaén’s sea of olive trees, beyond the nat­ural fron­tier of Sierra Morena’s moun­tain range.



This land­scape is uni­ver­sally known for being the home­land of Don Quixote, the most famous char­ac­ter of Spanish lit­er­a­ture, although food­ies will also link it to Manchego cheese and saf­fron.

But unlike its Southern neigh­bor, Andalusia — Spain’s largest olive oil-pro­duc­ing region — olive groves here share their promi­nence with huge fields of wheat, bar­ley and vine­yards.

Still, La Mancha region — mainly the provinces of Ciudad Real and Toledo — is the sec­ond-largest oil pro­ducer in Spain. Last year’s record har­vest in La Mancha reached around 180,000 tons, far behind Andalusia’s 1.3 mil­lion.

Colival is the largest pro­ducer in Ciudad Real.

“In our region, we are increas­ing the num­ber of hectares and pro­duc­tion. There are a lot of new olive groves, some of them are inten­sive ones and super-inten­sive ones. The farm­ers have also bet on newly planted cul­ti­vars such as Arbosana and Hojiblanca,” Molero explains.

However, it is the Cornicabra — which lit­er­ally means “horn of goat” due to is long and pointy shape — which is the main local cul­ti­var and an icon of the oil from La Mancha.

“Cornicabra was planted many years ago in the area of Toledo and Ciudad Real. This vari­ety has given us a name. On top of that, it’s a bal­anced and pow­er­ful oil which serves as a base for other lesser qual­ity oils,” Molero tells us.

Colival’s strat­egy con­sists of keep­ing its Cornicabra pro­duc­tion while diver­si­fy­ing with other cul­ti­vars. They also pro­duce two lines of oils in terms of qual­ity: a “nor­mal” extra vir­gin olive oil, which rep­re­sents the major­ity of their pro­duc­tion, and their Vandelvero top-of-the-line brand.

When asked about the chal­lenges of pro­duc­ing high-qual­ity olive oil in the con­text of a large coop­er­a­tive, Molero points out that the “asso­ciates are already men­tally pre­pared that, if they want to pro­duce qual­ity, they have to do as the coop­er­a­tive says.”

Reaching this point required a cer­tain amount of “plan­ning” though.

“The first year that we started pro­duc­ing our top of the line oil (…), we had an asso­ciate who owned his own means of har­vest. He had har­vest­ing machines, umbrel­las and three cul­ti­vars. So I talked to that mem­ber and I explained to him what I wanted for the coop­er­a­tive. He sup­ported me straight away and we har­vested the three cul­ti­vars from his fields,” Molero recalls.

“The sec­ond year, it was easy. All the mem­bers said: ‘I want to make that award-win­ning oil that you make.’ So the sec­ond year, the asso­ciates came to me.”

As the sun sets in Valdepeñas, trail­ers full of olives make their way from the olive groves to the premises of the coop­er­a­tive.

After sep­a­rat­ing the fruit from the leaves, the olives run through con­veyor belts to the mill. The dense aroma of the freshly pressed olive juice fills the air.

Molero grabs a small glass and tastes the new oil.

“It’s wor­thy when the stream of the new oil flows… when the mill is at an excep­tional tem­per­a­ture, the oil is at 24 degrees and you taste it and it has all the aro­mas. That is grat­i­fy­ing,” she says.

“And the awards. The awards we’ve been granted are due to the hard work of the coop­er­a­tive and all the team.”



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