The Good Oil

The Good Oil

Just under 7 months ago, AJ and I announced to the world that we were leaving Oz to be olive farmers in Southern Spain. I guess it was a statement more about a life change than rather a desire to be a olive farmer.

When we arrived at our new home after our 36 hour journey from the other side of the world, we unpacked some essentials and decided to ignore the exhaustion with a cerveza and a glass of vino blanco seco. As we walked with drinks in hand around the olive grove it was alive with the buzz of millions of insects rushing in and out of the 80 plus olive trees in a vane attempt to get to every flower that had burst to life.

Being someone who is allergic to bee stings, I gave the trees a wide berth at the start, conscious that a hospital trip is not a convenient exercise when you live up in the mountains. Since that first afternoon, I have come to realize that most of the wildlife is easy going up here and is not too worried when you are around, unlike Australia which has more then its fair share of nasties that will bite or sting you if given a chance. Our friends and neighbors have however told us to stay clear of the Escolopendra, a rather nasty centipede that lurks in the undergrowth.

One of the nasties around our property

Watching the menagerie of life attending to the olive trees was a great way to introduce us to the joy of being olive farmers. A local expat who has been around trees all his life showed me the ins and outs of pruning the trees to ensure the best possible yield. They say that a good olive tree is a tree that lets a bird fly through it without it clipping its wings. He also showed me the best way to water them which takes a page out of the Moorish handbook of watering and make a series of acequia like channels to direct the water around the trees so the roots just below the outside leaf line, get what they need.

Our watering channels

The mountains throughout the Alpujarra are crisscrossed with acequias that deliver the snow melt and spring water to properties for drinking, irrigation and the odd hidden swimming pool. Whenever you hike in the Sierra Nevada, you'll find it hard not to see one in action or the remnants of one. The engineering required to create this network is astounding with some acequias clinging to cliff edges or going through man made tunnels hewn from solid rock. Hundreds of years after their creation, locals still walk the acequias to ensure the water flows.

Acequia in Lanjaron Valley

From July through to October we watched those little green gems grow, watering them religiously every week from our limited water stores. Its hard to imagine them tasting so good when you get the impulse to pick one from the tree to try, let me tell you, don't do it, you'll instantly regret it and it in whatever form it will come out again. As October wains they start to turn purple and then go that instantly recognizable black olive hue. The race is on.

The end game.

When does the Olive mill open?

Are you around on Monday to help harvest?

When is the next windy day coming?

Do you want to form a syndicate so we can harvest the required 500 kgs for the mill?

Are we harvesting them with a tickler or a stick?

How many nets do you have?

Oh no, the wind is early!!!

Mother nature wins again

That's the game until harvest day.

We went with two harvests, separated by a rather nasty windy incident (see previous blog). Our first syndicate processed 480+ kgs and we got back about 80 litres of premium cold pressed olive oil. I can attest to it tasting amazing with a beer and some fresh bread when we went via a local drinking hole on our way home.

SJ with the Good Oil

Our second syndicate processed 520+ kgs and we got back about 120 litres. They say the longer you can hang out and not process the olives the better the yield, but you run the chance of losing the lot if the wind comes down the mountain.

We have also processed about 50kgs of table olives, there's no way we are going to consume 50kgs of them in a year as a tapa or a snack while playing gin but 50kgs gives you a lot of room to experiment with different brines, flavors and maturation periods. Here's hoping we will have at least one good lot from the bunch.

So here we are, after the issuing of thankyou's and gifts, we have about 85 litres of the good oil. How much will we use before we harvest again? Who knows, but I do now have a better appreciation of what it means to be an olive farmer in Southern Spain.

We are olive farmers