`The Núñez de Prado Obession with Perfection - Olive Oil Times

The Núñez de Prado Obession with Perfection

Dec. 11, 2011
Julie Butler

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Once, I dropped in and men­tioned that I’d been to Baena to see the Núñez de Prado broth­ers. His eyes widened. It was as though I’d told a coun­try Imam that I had just returned from Mecca.”

So reads a ref­er­ence in Mort Rosenblum’s book The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit” to the sev­enth gen­er­a­tion of the Núñez de Prado ded­i­cated to olive oil pro­duc­tion.

The leg­endary fam­ily bought its first mill in 1795 but was mainly focused on wine-mak­ing until the phyl­lox­era plague ruined its vine­yards. It then turned to make olive oil with a pas­sion that per­sists today.

Earlier this month, the European Program for Olive Oil Promotion hosted a group of English and French-speak­ing jour­nal­ists in Córdoba. The itin­er­ary included a visit to the family’s Santa Lucía organic olive oil plant in Baena, in the province´s south-east, to see a 1943-style mill and a mod­ern one in use on the same premises.

Olive Oil Times was there and spoke to one of the broth­ers, Felipe Núñez de Prado.

The Flower of EVOO

There are more than a dozen olive oil mills in Baena, a munic­i­pal­ity with about 21,000 inhab­i­tants and an olive oil denom­i­na­tion of ori­gin (D.O.) of the same name. But this mill is arguably the most emblem­atic and is vis­ited by about 20,000 tourists a year, many of whom stay for an olive oil tast­ing or typ­i­cal miller’s lunch.

The first thing that strikes you on arrival is that it is in the cen­ter of a small, white town, not in the sur­round­ing sea of olive trees. Núñez de Prado says that’s how it always used to be in Andalusia. Further out lie the four fam­ily estates, which span 700ha and 100,000 drip-irri­gated olive trees.

The next sur­prise is that as it’s har­vest time, freshly hand-picked olives are pour­ing down a chute, start­ing their two-hour meta­mor­pho­sis into a slightly bit­ter, rather fruity green juice that will be rested for about two months before bot­tling. But even allow­ing for the dif­fer­ent vari­eties — Picudo (native to Baena) for its flo­ral aroma, Picual for its bit­ter­ness and longevity, and Hojiblanca for its sweet­ness — the mix of green, red, brown and black is strik­ing. Teresa Pérez, direc­tor of the Interprofesional del Aceite de Oliva Español, explains that when the olive col­ors are mixed like this it’s the best time to har­vest.

There is another sur­prise in the room where the mill’s pre­mium prod­uct — Flor de Aceite (flower of olive oil) — is being hand-labeled and num­bered to enhance trace­abil­ity. Eleven kilos of olives are needed to obtain a liter of this unfil­tered EVOO, which has a max­i­mum acid­ity of 0.2 per­cent. Although a 500ml bot­tle sells from €12 – 22 ($16 – 29) in its far-rang­ing des­ti­na­tions, the on-premise price is just €5 ($6.65). And, apart from adjust­ment for infla­tion in export mar­kets, the fam­ily, which has a turnover of €5 mil­lion ($6.6m) on its olive oil oper­a­tions, says its olive oil prices have not increased in three decades.

The label says the 2011 Flor de Aceite has a wide range of fruity and flo­ral aro­mas — hints of green olives, grass, oranges, lemons, and apples — and a slightly bit­ter and spicy after­taste.

Production

While the First Cold Pressed Núñez de Prado EVOO is extracted using hydraulic presses, the Flor de Aceite is a free-run oil that seeps from olive paste that has been inter­spersed in a high pile of grass mats and grad­u­ally squeezed. This alone is a stand-out image, as is the sight of three huge, rotat­ing gran­ite cones that first crush the olives to make the paste.

Unfiltered oil in trans­par­ent bot­tles: Why?

The fam­ily pro­duces only EVOO, almost all of which it sells unfil­tered, because it has a stronger fla­vor, an inter­est­ing look and is some­thing dif­fer­ent,” Núñez de Prado says. In Japan, for instance, peo­ple under­stand this and like their olive oil unfil­tered.

And we use trans­par­ent bot­tles because we want peo­ple to see the color of our oil, so they can rec­og­nize its qual­ity. It’s the oppo­site of olive oil tast­ings, where the oil is in blue glass so the tasters aren’t influ­enced by nice col­ors.

Using opaque or col­ored glass allows some pro­duc­ers to mix oils and mis­lead cus­tomers, who can’t see the color of what they are buy­ing. The light in super­mar­kets is usu­ally cold, so it’s not a prob­lem, and our cus­tomers gen­er­ally know to keep their oil away from light, and we also say it on the label.”

Exports

Of the annual EVOO pro­duc­tion of 1 mil­lion liters, almost all is pre-sold and about 85 per­cent is exported, mainly to Asia and within Europe.

Japan takes 40 per­cent of our exports and we send 20 – 25 per­cent to the U.S. Our other main mar­kets are France, Germany, the U.K., Belgium, Korea and China. Our clients are a mix of restau­ra­teurs and house­hold users.”

The broth­ers fre­quently travel over­seas to pro­mote their EVOOs. Felipe, who him­self makes 8 – 9 trips a year, says it can be gru­el­ing but is essen­tial to spread under­stand­ing about the qual­ity of the oil.

Going green

Núñez de Prado becomes a lit­tle quiet when asked about his brother Andrés, an agri­cul­tural engi­neer who drove the plant’s mod­ern­iza­tion but died in 1998 at just 54. Rosenblum’s book says, If there is a high priest of olives…it is Andrés Núñez de Prado.” Brothers Francisco, Antonio and Felipe, how­ever, are car­ry­ing the man­tle with equal ded­i­ca­tion.

Andrés was ahead of his time in lots of ways. For instance he was seen as crazy because he started har­vest­ing in November but now the major­ity of grow­ers start in November,” says Felipe Núñez de Prado proudly.

He also had an agro­chem­i­cal busi­ness so he knew about the increased use of pes­ti­cides and that they left a residue in olive oil. Back in 1986 he real­ized that the tra­di­tional method wasn’t work­ing, you had to use too many chem­i­cals, so we started organic pro­duc­tion then and got cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in 1990 when it became avail­able.”

Flies and fun­gus

The fam­ily has two main chal­lenges on the organic front: fun­gus and the olive fruit fly.

” For the fun­gus, we put cop­per sul­fate on the leaves and to reduce the flies we use plas­tic bot­tles with a sex pheromone to attract and trap the males. We put out the bot­tles in September and October and use about 3000 – 4000 of them,” Núñez de Prado explains.

Although there is aer­ial pes­ti­cide spray­ing in the region he doesn’t worry about con­t­a­m­i­na­tion. We are advised when they will be doing it and put up flags to mark our prop­erty, and the pilots know the areas to avoid.”

Food

Not only is Felipe pas­sion­ate about mak­ing olive oil, he needs lit­tle excuse to splash it about. After a tast­ing ses­sion at the mill, he sloshed a healthy dose on his bread and poured (more than driz­zled) more on some of the tapas being served, includ­ing the Manchego cheese and Iberian ham, before going on to explain why the tem­pura (which Andalusia claims to have intro­duced to Japan) and fried almonds had great fla­vor but weren’t greasy — they were cooked in olive oil. The ham and par­tridge cro­quettes and scram­bled eggs at the fol­low­ing lunch, both fried in olive oil, were a par­tic­u­lar hit. And dessert nat­u­rally con­tin­ued the theme, with honey and olive oil driz­zled over an orange, accom­pa­nied by an EVOO ice cream.

Esteemed by con­nois­seurs and gar­landed with prizes both in and beyond Spain, the Núñez de Prado EVOOs are liq­uid tes­ti­mony to the phi­los­o­phy of the fam­ily behind them: respect for nature, and use of both the best arti­sanal meth­ods and the most inno­v­a­tive mod­ern tech­nol­ogy.



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