` The Núñez de Prado Obession with Perfection

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The Núñez de Prado Obession with Perfection

Dec. 11, 2011
By 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 mak­ing 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.

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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 tress.

The next sur­prise is that as it’s har­vest time, freshly hand-picked olive 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.

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