`Andalucia Journal: Life Among the Groves - Olive Oil Times

Andalucia Journal: Life Among the Groves

Mar. 5, 2015
Charles Lavers

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Nothing con­veys the impor­tance of olive oil like a smack to the head at two in the morn­ing while try­ing (with painfully ade­quate delib­er­acy) to make an egg­plant parme­san; a scold­ing from a friend of mine who lived in a house where there were cer­tain olive oils you just weren’t allowed to touch. Where these olive oils were from I could not tell you then, or now. However, my appre­ci­a­tion for the fruit and the oil it bears has evolved into a pas­sion made pos­si­ble by for­tu­nate cir­cum­stance.

I live in an area of Spain known for its sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the world of olive oil (Andalucia), and am for­tu­nate enough to look out on olive trees every morn­ing. Finding a grove involves a car ride last­ing barely five min­utes. For most of us, olive oil is defined as the first step while fol­low­ing recipe instruc­tions. However, for many Andalucians, olive oil means fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of gen­er­a­tions of farm­ers and pro­duc­ers.

Driving south on the A330 near Orce and Alqueria, through the end­less areas of bad­lands bro­ken up by the combed fields of olive and almond trees, you get the sense that you are not in the 21st cen­tury. The fields are lit­tered with anti­quated and aban­doned farm­ing equip­ment, while the only traf­fic jams to speak of are those involv­ing goats and over­pro­tec­tive shep­herds.

In fact, the mod­ern world has done lit­tle to change the way olives are har­vested each win­ter; as cloths are still placed beneath the trees in order to gather the olives knocked down using long sticks. It’s a sim­ple method, and whether it’s a large oper­a­tion or one of the increas­ingly harder to find fam­ily-owned groves, there are no short­cuts.

The past sev­eral years have seen a rise in the pop­u­lar­ity of machines har­vest­ing olives by way of shak­ing the trees, and steel machin­ery has taken over most of the work that used to be done by don­keys, which turned the stone wheels used to crush olives into a mash. Modern cen­trifuges have replaced many of the old fash­ioned presses.

While the processes used to har­vest and cul­ti­vate olives for oil have changed a lit­tle over the years, the cul­ture of olive oil pro­duc­tion here has­n’t. I am look­ing for­ward to shar­ing what I learn while explor­ing what makes olive oil such an inte­gral part of Spanish and Mediterranean life.

It’s funny how search­ing for new expe­ri­ences can spark an inter­est in some­thing quite old.

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