The Joy and Sacrifice of Organic Olive Oil Production on Mallorca

Oli de Santanyi founder Dirk Müller-Busch believes that producers who want a fair price must meet consumer demands for organic, high-quality extra virgin olive oil at all costs.

Grazing sheep control weeds in an organic olive farm in Mallorca (Photo: Oli de Santanyi)
By Paolo DeAndreis
Jan. 29, 2024 17:20 UTC
266
Grazing sheep control weeds in an organic olive farm in Mallorca (Photo: Oli de Santanyi)

Dirk Müller-Busch believes that pro­duc­ers must sac­ri­fice quan­tity to achieve award-win­ning qual­ity and expect a fair price for their extra vir­gin olive oil from increas­ingly knowl­edge­able con­sumers.

On the south­west­ern coast­line of the Spanish Mediterranean island of Mallorca, the founder of Oli de Santanyi takes advan­tage of the region’s unique micro­cli­mate to pro­duce lim­ited batches of award-win­ning organic olive oil.

If you want to get a fair price for your work and pro­duce a high-qual­ity prod­uct, you have to meet all the cri­te­ria demanded (by the con­sumers).- Dirk Müller-Busch, founder, Oli de Santanyi

Despite the the severe drought through­out the year and the high tem­per­a­tures” dur­ing the 2022/23 crop year, Oli de Santanyi once again won a Gold Award – the com­pa­ny’s tenth since 2016 – at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

Müller-Busch, a den­tist and implant spe­cial­ist, told Olive Oil Times that his med­ical back­ground and pas­sion for olive oil and cook­ing set him on the path to becom­ing an olive farmer and olive oil pro­ducer more than a decade ago.

See Also:Producer Profiles

The idea of pro­duc­ing a high-qual­ity organic olive oil orig­i­nated from my med­ical back­ground and my pas­sion for culi­nary art,” he said. After attend­ing olive oil courses and trav­el­ing through Europe and South America, Müller-Busch set his plans in motion to cre­ate Oli de Santanyi in 2010.

He attrib­uted much of his suc­cess to the team of well-known olive oil experts and agron­o­mists who advised him on sit­ing and plant­ing his organic groves and develop milling tech­niques to over­come increas­ingly hot autumn tem­per­a­tures and pre­serve the minor com­pounds than endow olive oil with the vast major­ity of its health ben­e­fits.

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-europe-the-joy-and-sacrifice-of-organic-olive-oil-production-on-mallorca-olive-oil-times

Dirk Müller-Busch founded Oli de Santanyi in 2010. (Photo: Oli de Santanyi)

Our idea was to pro­duce an olive oil crafted like wine,” Müller-Busch said. At Oli de Santanyi, olives are cul­ti­vated in the same way as vines. Regular prun­ing pro­vides uni­for­mity to the canopy and influ­ences the quan­tity of olives per tree. As yield increases, so does the qual­ity of the fruit.”

Olives have the high­est con­tent of healthy ingre­di­ents at the begin­ning of their ripen­ing phase. Therefore, early har­vest­ing is essen­tial for us regard­ing qual­ity,” he added. It guar­an­tees the max­i­mum preser­va­tion of valu­able sec­ondary plant sub­stances [such as polyphe­nols and sterols], which have a pos­i­tive effect on human health and, at the same time, pro­tect olive oil from aging.”

Among the chal­lenges the pro­duc­ers behind Oli de Santanyi have had to over­come are the high tem­per­a­tures that Mallorca expe­ri­ences in late September when the har­vest begins.

This early har­vest requires a high level of knowl­edge, tech­nol­ogy and expe­ri­ence,” Müller-Busch said. Cooling the olives is par­tic­u­larly impor­tant, as tem­per­a­tures can still reach 30 ºC at the time of har­vest. For this rea­son, the olives are placed directly in a refrig­er­a­tor.”

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-europe-the-joy-and-sacrifice-of-organic-olive-oil-production-on-mallorca-olive-oil-times

Oli de Santanyi grows Picual, Empeltre and Arbequina in the Aceite de Mallorca PDO. (Photo: Oli de Santanyi)

Those olives are cooled for two to three hours down to 16 ºC before reach­ing the mill. There, the extrac­tion process is car­ried out with tem­per­a­tures rang­ing from 20 ºC to 23 ºC.

Our oil is fil­tered twice after extrac­tion, so we also remove any remain­ing amni­otic fluid,” he said. This is an indis­pens­able require­ment for the olive oil to main­tain its sta­bil­ity.”

While pre­serv­ing qual­ity, the dou­ble fil­tra­tion reduces the final olive oil yield. Given the early har­vest and the dou­ble fil­tra­tion, our yield is usu­ally between eight to 10 per­cent, against the 15 to 18 per­cent that can be found in a con­ven­tional olive mill,” Müller-Busch said.

This means we need about 12 kilo­grams of olives for one liter of olive oil, whereas nor­mally it would require about six to seven kilo­grams,” he added.

The company’s 15-year-old olive orchards are planted as tra­di­tional groves and are home to three olive cul­ti­vars typ­i­cal of Mallorca: Arbequina, Picual and Empeltre. Since 2003, those cul­ti­vars have con­tributed to the Aceite de Mallorca Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) pro­duc­tion.

At our mill, the tem­per­a­ture is com­puter-con­trolled at each stage of the process,” Müller-Busch said. Each vari­ety is pressed indi­vid­u­ally, and dif­fer­ent speeds are set in the blade mill and dif­fer­ent times in the mix­ers.”

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The company’s team devised the specifics of the olive oil mill itself. The mill makes it pos­si­ble to work with­out adding water and with­out con­tact with air to pre­vent oxi­da­tion and fer­men­ta­tion,” Müller-Busch said.

Olive oil is stored in mod­ern stain­less steel tanks, avoid­ing con­tact with oxy­gen. When bot­tled, the con­tents are vac­uum-filled to pre­vent oxy­gen in the neck of the bot­tle.

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-europe-the-joy-and-sacrifice-of-organic-olive-oil-production-on-mallorca-olive-oil-times

Oli de Santanyi’s modern mill and stainless steel tanks are part of the company’s keys to success at the NYIOOC. (Photo: Oli de Santanyi)

We also use spe­cial glass bot­tles that guar­an­tee absolute pro­tec­tion from light, called vio­let glass,” Müller-Busch said.

Violet glass is a quasi-black light-fil­ter­ing mate­r­ial that has long been con­sid­ered capa­ble of pre­vent­ing prod­uct degra­da­tion.

Only the vio­let light spec­trum can reach the bottle’s con­tents due to the min­er­als included in the man­u­fac­ture of the glass.

Reflecting on the 2023/24 crop year, Müller-Busch said Mallorca’s mild weather seems to have boosted local pro­ducer con­fi­dence.

Overall, this sea­son has been sat­is­fac­tory in Mallorca, as there has been enough rain through­out the year,” he said. Therefore, the results came in bet­ter than in pre­vi­ous years, and the qual­ity of the olives was very good.”

Organic is only fea­si­ble in smaller pro­duc­tion units to ensure truly excep­tional qual­ity,” he added. The effort required to care for and mon­i­tor the olives is con­sid­er­ably greater than con­ven­tional cul­ti­va­tion, so well-done organic farm­ing is only pos­si­ble in small-scale pro­duc­tion.”

According to the pro­ducer, nowa­days, both tech­nol­ogy and knowl­edge to pro­duce the best qual­ity of extra vir­gin olive oils are at hand for any­one will­ing to invest.

The biggest chal­lenges, espe­cially for smaller organic farms, are the chang­ing cli­mate con­di­tions, cap­i­tal invest­ment in the pro­duc­tion and milling process, the gen­eral increase in costs due to infla­tion and estab­lish­ing a suit­able price for the oil in the mar­ket,” Müller-Busch said.

He added that adopt­ing organic farm­ing tech­niques and win­ning at the NYIOOC helped the com­pany build trust.

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-europe-the-joy-and-sacrifice-of-organic-olive-oil-production-on-mallorca-olive-oil-times

Organic farming methods are more costly than conventional alternatives, but pay off in the long run as consumer demand for organic olive oil soars. (Photo: Oli de Santanyi)

If you want to get a fair price for your work and pro­duce a high-qual­ity prod­uct, you have to meet all the cri­te­ria demanded [by the con­sumers],” Müller-Busch said. This also means that the oil must be free of pes­ti­cides.”

Transparency with con­sumers is ensured by mak­ing the analy­ses of the prod­uct pub­lic, as they also gen­er­ate trust,” he added.

Even with a grow­ing global appetite for organic olive oil, main­tain­ing an organic olive farm is more expen­sive and time-con­sum­ing than con­ven­tional farm­ing.

In addi­tion to not using her­bi­cides, insec­ti­cides or arti­fi­cial fer­til­iz­ers, syn­thetic chem­i­cals are not used to com­bat pests and dis­eases,” Müller-Busch said.

Our organic farm­ing is based on nat­ural cycles, and pests are con­trolled by their nat­ural ene­mies or mechan­i­cally,” he added. The bio­di­ver­sity of herbs, grasses, flow­ers, and more pro­vides the soil with the nec­es­sary nutri­ents and increases the resis­tance of the olives to pests and dis­eases.”

Despite the chal­lenges of being organic, Müller-Busch said con­sumers are becom­ing more aware of the value of organic farm­ing and extra vir­gin olive oil qual­ity.

We are also proud that with our project, we have been able to encour­age some pro­duc­ers in Mallorca to fol­low our path towards inno­v­a­tive olive oil pro­duc­tion,” he con­cluded.


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