Europe

Masía El Altet: Valencia's Gold Standard

At nearly 3,000 ft above sea level in Valencia, Masía El Altet is placed at the turning point where the Mediterranean climate starts receiving continental influences.

Jorge Petit Jr. and Jorge Petit Sr. at Masia El Altet
Sep. 28, 2018
By Pablo Esparza
Jorge Petit Jr. and Jorge Petit Sr. at Masia El Altet

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For cen­turies, the Sierra de Mar­i­ola has been regarded as a kind of nat­ural botan­i­cal gar­den at the heart of the Valen­cian Com­mu­nity, in East­ern Spain.

Over 1,200 species of plants, many of them endemic, grow on its slopes and aro­matic and med­i­c­i­nal herbs are the base of her­ber (mean­ing made of herbs”) — a local liquor which is prob­a­bly one of the best-known prod­ucts of the area.

I was born in the coun­try­side. I’ve been raised here. And I have really seen these olive trees grow as if they were my broth­ers- Jorge Petit, Masía El Altet

No won­der Jorge Petit and his father, also named Jorge, cred­its the pines, rose­mary and thyme for the fla­vor of their olive oil.

This is very impor­tant because olives, being fat-sol­u­ble, feed them­selves and absorb all that there’s around them. If there was a fac­tory here, they would absorb smoke. But we have aro­matic plants,” Petit said at his estate at Masía El Altet, where he and his father met a reporter and video­g­ra­pher on assign­ment for Olive Oil Times.

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Their ivy-cov­ered 17th-cen­tury man­sion is placed in the mid­dle of a grove of 14,500 olive trees. The tall cypresses around the house and its pale orange façade give it a Tus­can look.

I was born in the coun­try­side. I’ve been raised here. And I have really seen these olive trees grow as if they were my broth­ers,” Petit pointed out.

This 73-hectare plan­ta­tion is set in a small val­ley some 10 kilo­me­ters from Alcoi, the main town in the area, and is shared by two nat­ural parks.

To the North, the Sierra de Mar­i­ola. To the South, the Font Roja Nat­ural Park, one of the main ker­mes oak for­est reserves in the Valen­cian region.

We started plant­ing olive trees back in 1992. Before that, sun­flow­ers and wheat were the main crops here. We were look­ing to grow fruit trees but they suf­fered too much from frost.

Then we noticed that our hun­dred-year-old olive trees per­formed very well here. And we decided to plant more olive trees. Before that, all the oil we pro­duced was for our own con­sump­tion,” Petit explained, as he strolled with his father through the trees.

Being in a pro­tected nat­ural area has cer­tain advan­tages, but it also brings some lim­i­ta­tions. For instance, the oil mill had to be built a few kilo­me­ters away, out of the parks.

In 2003, they started sell­ing their own oil. Just six years later, the renowned French chef Joël Robu­chon — who used to spend his hol­i­days in a nearby town — started using it at his restau­rants.

We were slowly grow­ing, but from 2009 on, our growth was expo­nen­tial. I think [Robu­chon] fell in love with our oil because of the com­plex­ity it has. And that’s thanks to the cli­mate of the place we grow our olive trees,” Petit said.

The Ali­cante Moun­tains have tra­di­tion­ally pro­duced olive oil as almost every region around the Mediter­ranean. But this area is far away from Spain’s main pro­duc­ing areas, such as Jaén or Cór­doba.

In fact, Masía El Altet was the only award-win­ning pro­ducer from the Valen­cian Com­mu­nity at the 2018 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Com­pe­ti­tion, where it won three Gold Awards. This dis­tance to Andalu­sia may con­tribute to the par­tic­u­lar traits of Petit’s oils.

This is a land of con­trasts. Just a few kilo­me­ters away from the coast, the moun­tain range — which reaches almost (around 4,593 ft) of alti­tude — is cov­ered by snow every win­ter.

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At 850 meters (2,788 ft) above sea level, the limit of height where olive trees can grow in the area, Masía El Altet is placed at the turn­ing point where the Mediter­ranean cli­mate starts receiv­ing con­ti­nen­tal influ­ences. And ther­mal dif­fer­ences may be abrupt.

We have 22°C (72°F) now. Last night we had around 13°C (55°F) and by noon we’ll be over 30°C (86°F),” said Petit.

This wide ther­mal con­trast, sud­den day-night changes are really impor­tant for the final qual­ity of the olive,” he added.

Apart from the cli­mate, Petit describes the use of local vari­eties as Masía El Altet’s dis­tin­guish­ing trait.”

Most of the newly planted olive trees of the estate are of Picual vari­ety. How­ever, the cen­te­nary trees that sur­vive in the ter­raced fields belong to four local cul­ti­vars: Alfa­farenca, Gen­ovesa, Blan­queta and Changlot Real.

They pro­duce oils that are a lit­tle bit sour and spicy. So we mix them, we make a coupage, in the quest of a more bal­anced oil,” he said.


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