Oro Bailén’s groves in Jaén lie within the world's largest olive oil-producing region, yet the Gálvez family knew from the beginning they wanted to do things differently.
“People often ask me whether I sleep at home or here at the olive oil mill. I certainly sleep at home, but when you really like what you are doing it doesn’t feel like work,” says José Gálvez, manager of Oro Bailén.
Those extra hours and dedication may have well paid off as his company, which started producing olive oil in 2005, is regarded as one of the best established olive oil producers in Jaén.
A performance that follows a continuous path of awards that started in 2014.
Placed at the foothills of the south side of Sierra Morena, the natural border between the plains of La Mancha and Andalusia, in Southern Spain, Oro Bailén’s olive groves and olive mill lie within the limits of the so-called Sea of Olives.
“We are surrounded by over 60 million olive trees. Jaén is the largest olive oil producer in the world. More than 20 percent of the global production comes from this province,” Gálvez proudly says as he shows Olive Oil Times his mill.
It’s mid-January and both the mill and the reception area for the olives have are already been cleaned.
While some producers are still in the last days of the harvest season — which this year has been particularly short in Andalusia — Oro Bailén’s campaign has been over for almost two months already.
“One of our most remarkable traits is that 80 percent of the oils we make are early-harvest oils. Our oils are harvested from mid-October to mid-November, leaving some 20 percent until the end of November for riper oils which may also serve customers for other cooking purposes,” Gálvez explains.
For decades, the Gálvez family was dedicated to the production of bricks for construction, a traditional sector in their hometown of Bailén.
At one point, José’s father decided to diversify their activity by investing in olive groves and olive oil production.
“Being in a province with such a large olive oil production, where families have been producing olive oil for generations, our business strategy was based on doing something different to what was being done,” he recalls.
Early harvest olive oils are now regarded as the best in terms of health and organoleptic quality.
However, just a few years ago, Gálvez points out, things were different.
“When we started 15 years ago, it really was a challenge and, more than a challenge, a bet. To start producing oil by mid-October was something pretty risky at the beginning. Productivity is much lower and, back then, we didn’t know the market and how the consumer’s reaction was going to look like,” he says.
Nowadays, Oro Bailén’s oils come from some 2,000 hectares of olive groves and its production has been steadily growing throughout the years.
“We export to 38 countries around the world and we pride ourselves on maintaining the quality of our olive oil every year. I want a bottle of Oro Bailén to have the same quality no matter the year and regardless of where you open it,” Gálvez tells.
“But early harvest oils have a very tight deadline when it comes to harvest and production. So, if you want to keep your quality, you can’t extend that deadline. Instead, you have to harvest more amount of olives and to produce more oil in the same period of time. That’s very important. We have been increasing our capabilities of harvest and production according to the growth of our demand,” he adds.
As we stroll among the olive trees, Gálvez points the weeds growing among them and the shredded pruning materials on the ground.
Oro Bailén’s olive groves follow the principles of the integrated farming system which, according to the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, aims at a long-term sustainable production using carefully selected and controlled biological and chemical methods in order to make environmental protection and farming productivity compatible.
“It is halfway, or a balanced way, between environmental respect and farming profitability. We don’t till our olive groves, which prevents the erosion of the soil. We don’t use herbicides. For us, weeds don’t compete with olive trees,” Gálvez suggests.
When asked about “the secret” to maintain a high-quality standard throughout the years, Gálvez laughs. It’s not the first time he’s got that question.
“Every time we grow, we must optimize every single process according to the growth we are experiencing. If we are talking about staff, we are talking about training that staff. Involving that staff on our project (…). They have to understand what we are doing,” he assures.
“And it’s basically believing in what you are doing (…). You get hooked to this sector once you start doing things and you see a hint of gratitude or recognition. That slap on the back may look so cliché: ‘What do awards mean to you?’ ‘Oh, it’s a slap in the back to what we are doing…’. That’s what it really is.”