Oro Bailén: Pure Gold in a Sea of Olives

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.

José Gálvez, manager of Oro Bailén
Jan. 29, 2020
By Pablo Esparza
José Gálvez, manager of Oro Bailén

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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. 

In 2019, they won a Best in Class Award, two Gold Awards and one Silver at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

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.”


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