Domaine Adonis Bets on Traditional Orchards and Organic Production

The renowned Tunisian producer centers on local cultivars, working with the terroir, and earning global recognition.

Salah Ben Ayed, Domaine Adonis
By Paolo DeAndreis
Jan. 31, 2023 15:22 UTC
1165
Salah Ben Ayed, Domaine Adonis

In the five years since its first olive cam­paign in 2019, Domaine Adonis’s Tunisian extra vir­gin olive oils have col­lected the indus­try’s most cov­eted awards.

Four of Domaine Adonis’s mono­va­ri­etals and one blend received Gold Awards at the 2022 New York International Olive Oil Competition (NYIOOC).

The olive trees we have planted, I feel them as they were my chil­dren. You worry if one of them gets sick. And look­ing at them grow­ing up fills me with joy.- Salah Ben Ayed, Domaine Adonis

Such awards mean a lot for our com­pany. We are a very small busi­ness. Winning this kind of com­pe­ti­tion con­tributed sub­stan­tially to make our EVOOs com­pete on the world stage. Domaine Adonis did not need to go look­ing for clients — they come look­ing for our EVOOs,” Salah Ben Ayed, owner of the farm, told Olive Oil Times.

See Also:The World’s Best Olive Oils

In 2015, Ayed, who owns other agri-food enter­prises, bought an olive farm in north­west Tunisia, on the hills of Mjez El Beb, with 2,900 olive trees.

Many of those trees had been planted by the French colonists at the end of the 19th Century. To those, we added all the olive trees that we could, so today we take care of approx­i­mately thir­teen thou­sand olive trees,” Ayed said.

Many of the trees come from renowned local cul­ti­vars, such as Chetoui, Chemleli and Sayali. Other cul­ti­vars include Arbosana and Koroneiki. Ours are not inten­sive orchards; they are all tra­di­tional sets to which we added irri­ga­tion sys­tems mainly used in the warmest period of the year,” Ayed noted.

From the begin­ning, water scarcity has been an issue for the farm.

Looking at the dry weather, we chose vari­eties such as Chemleli as they tend to be highly resilient to such con­di­tions. Interestingly, the dif­fer­ent cli­mate, the dif­fer­ent soil char­ac­ter­is­tics and the height of our hills made the trees give us olives with a fla­vor very dif­fer­ent from what they usu­ally bear in the south, where Chemleli is mostly grown,” Ayed noted.

The olive trees we have planted, I feel them as they were my chil­dren. You worry if one of them gets sick. And look­ing at them grow­ing up fills me with joy,” he added.

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-domaine-adonis-bets-on-traditional-orchards-and-organic-production-olive-oil-times

Salah Ben Ayed

If all of this is hap­pen­ing, it is because of our love for nature. About 40 of our 100 hectares are for­est land. We banned hunt­ing there and made some water avail­able to the ani­mals liv­ing there. You might find some of those birds only in our for­est,” Ayed noted.

Today, Domaine Adonis EVOOs are organ­i­cally pro­duced. It did not start that way.

In 2016, we tested con­ven­tional farm­ing with pes­ti­cides and other chem­i­cals. But we soon real­ized that such con­ven­tional approach is not good for nature. When I talk about nature, I talk of birds, boars, insects and so on,” Ayed explained.

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-domaine-adonis-bets-on-traditional-orchards-and-organic-production-olive-oil-times

Harvest at Domaine Adonis

That year, we real­ized that water for irri­ga­tion or rain­fall was mix­ing up with the chem­i­cal com­pounds. Such mix­ture was then being absorbed by the local water-hun­gry fauna. When we under­stood that, our approach changed rad­i­cally. There are birds com­ing on our trees to drink,” Ayed recalled.

Since its first com­mer­cial har­vest in 2019, Domaine Adonis has obtained the organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion released by a sole Italy-based oper­a­tor. Every year, we get some on-site inves­ti­ga­tion, there is report­ing to do and so on. Our cus­tomers eat a health­ier olive oil,” he added.

A few years after plant­ing the new olive trees, Domaine Adonis bought its olive oil mill, which Ayed directly oper­ates.

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-domaine-adonis-bets-on-traditional-orchards-and-organic-production-olive-oil-times

In 2021/2022, we had our great­est result so far with 15,000 liters of olive oil. In the cur­rent sea­son, we reached 9,000, but in a mat­ter of years, we expect to reach 20,000 as the trees grow,” he said.

I do oper­ate the olive mill, and while it is a chal­leng­ing task to oper­ate it in the best pos­si­ble way, the true chal­lenge comes after the har­vest. And that is the sale price of our EVOOs,” he added.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Ayed under­lined how pro­duc­ing high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil requires hard work in the fields all year. To that effort, elec­tric­ity and fuel costs must be added. The olive oil mar­ket does not eas­ily account for these costs.

It is highly prob­lem­atic to place our EVOOs at a price which one might con­sider bal­anced. We can­not sell one liter of high-qual­ity olive oil at €4 or €5,” he explained.

Bulk sales dom­i­nate the olive oil mar­ket in Tunisia, and while olive oil is a sta­ple prod­uct of the local cui­sine, expen­di­ture for qual­ity EVOOs is lim­ited.

Most of those who con­sume olive oil do not really know much about its qual­ity. And that is true in Tunisia but it is the same in many other coun­tries,” Ayed stressed.

See Also:Olive Oil Education Programs

Other costs that should be con­sid­ered in deter­min­ing a fair price come from the uncer­tain­ties of the cli­mate as well as the alter­nate bear­ing sea­sons of the olive trees, which make many trees deprived of olives in off-years,” Ayed noted.

While some pro­duc­tion hic­cups might be esti­mated, some can­not be entirely pre­dicted. The Mediterranean mega-drought that crip­pled olive farm­ing in the west­ern Mediterranean Basin through­out the last sea­son rep­re­sents an exam­ple of one such extra­or­di­nary event.

See Also:Study: Climate Change Is Making Droughts More Frequent and Severe

We are not see­ing and did not see any rain­fall for so long, a sit­u­a­tion which nobody here has ever seen before,” Ayed noted. Given its effects on olive yields, rain­fall scarcity rep­re­sents a high oper­at­ing cost.

That is why we export, as we are look­ing for a fair price for our prod­ucts. We do not export large quan­ti­ties, but the price is fair. We sold in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and will soon be sell­ing in South Korea as well,” Ayed noted.

A fair income is indis­pens­able to make this project work. I would even pre­fer not to sell part of our EVOOs should that sup­port a fair price,” he explained.



Share this article

Advertisement
Advertisement

Related Articles