From Spain with Love: A Fairytale from Andalucía

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Just a short drive north of Málaga, Bobadilla holds a secret that very few people outside of Spain would know of. But for every day that passes, this place welcomes an increasing number of people who want to learn more about what this farm produces. The award-winning farmer of Finca la Torre can compete as the very best olive oil producer in the world. Because of the exceptional results, the farm happily shares its pride, and people who are interested can stay a night stay or two to learn about the production. The director of the farm says that in the future, he wants his lessons to form a complete education.

The History and the Awards

The fairytale began long ago, about 200 years before Christ – the proof lies in the ruins. The stones that remain were once mills, serving today as decoration on the well-trimmed green lawn in front of the main house. They bear witness to an old history of the secret of refining oil from olive trees.

The farm of Finca la Torre has bloomed since 2011 under the management of Victor Pérez, the director of agricultural production. More than 1 million euros have been pumped into the renovation of new equipment. Pérez stays on the farm 24/7 to supervise, and there is no doubt that his dedication shines through Finca la Torre’s many awards.

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All photos by Helene Miller

It was actually “by accident” that his team realized that the farm’s trees and the environment were under the perfect condition to produce the world’s best olive oil. The climate where the farm is located is perfect for traditional production, a blend of intensive and dynamic olive trees[1], but also for ecological production. The first time Finca la Torre submitted olive oil to a national competition was to see at what level it could improve for future production. With the surprising winning result, it just pushed the established methods for fine-tuning. Victor’s voice is enthusiastic when describing his methods of production:

An important ingredient for good quality is to work with the nature and not against it. It is important to keep a healthy ecosystem balanced. Then the good results will work with you. If a farmer decides to use pesticides, the eco-balance will get out of balance and create a negative spiral effect into a catch 22. To be able to leave out all artificial help that can contaminate taste and quality, you have to fight enemies like flies, humidity, and the use of pesticides. But the worst enemies are the flies that lay eggs in the fruits (olives). Worm can be born from the eggs and eat the olives. They produce their own excrements and give bad taste and impair the quality. The trees also need good ventilation to keep insects away and good ventilation to beat the fungus that thrives in humidity.

Luckily, Finca la Torre’s environment is naturally very windy, and the constant draft keeps the flies away. To further prevent insects from disturbing the trees, Pérez plants different herbs and certain grasses to act as repellents, a natural and successful method with no side effects. The timing of harvest is also an important factor. The farm keeps the production low and is determined to keep it that way.

The base for Finca la Torre’s increased notoriety started with a German owner who bought the farm in 1999 and saw new possibilities for the quality and production. He invested a lot of money in new trees and more land. He developed production methods to support ecologic production and gained probably the very first certification as an ecologic olive oil producer in Spain.

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The Production

Olive oil production starts with harvesting the trees, then squeezing the olives in high-speed centrifuges to separate the oil. This is done in three stages. When the quality oil is ready, the barrels are filled, then emptied for bottling, labeling, marketing, and distribution. All this work takes place in a single busy month. The farm’s 380 hectares and 33,000 trees can then begin a new cycle for the next year’s production.

Production of olive oil can be done other ways, but the most crucial factor for producing good quality oil is the temperature during the process, the raw material used, and the timing – how quickly the separation of the water and the oil occurs. It is important that the water touches the olives in the shortest amount of time as possible as the water from the olives contain some compounds that could ferment the product.

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Cold extraction is also important, for the process is done below 27° Celsius or 80.6° Fahrenheit. If not, the higher temperature will release the polyphenol (antioxidants) and wash them away. Many olive oil producers label olive oil as cold extraction, however it cannot always be controlled or verified.

Finca la Torre’s own oil is only tapped into dark glassed bottles as the darkness and the glass itself preserve its contents better. The olive oil can last for a long time, but the intensity of the taste will be reduced naturally by time. Finca la Torre has a recommendation date (never an expiration date) to consume the oil within 18 months. The barrels are filled with nitrogen so that when the oil replaces the nitrogen, the oil will never be in touch with oxygen. The room temperature needs to be constant, not lower or higher than 20 degrees as this one-month production is what they sell throughout the year.

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The Tasting

As a gesture of the house, Victor Pérez went through the procedure of tasting the olive oil. It was a very similar routine to wine tasting. I had to fill my nostrils with the scent, identify, dipping the tip of my tongue in olive oil, and let the fruit seduce the taste buds. So, as with wine tasting, I couldn’t swallow. In few seconds or about one minute, depending on the olive oil, I identified the ingredients. It really was a new experience to understand how to distinguish olive oils with their varying intensities, the term for good taste.

My last question was, “How can you predict the quality of a year’s production?”

Victor replies:

Young or old trees don’t matter. But the trees have good and bad years (or fewer fruits) every second year. Last year, 2015 was a good year, and the expectancy for 2016 is poorer because the trees also suffered a very dry year.

The Finca la Torre farm has so many more hidden stories to tell as an olive oil farm that has survived since 200 BC. You can only tell it’s amazing. As some say, only extraordinary people can achieve extraordinary things. Finca la Torre has been lucky enough to find Victor Pérez to lead its way. It seems that with his name they can continue gaining victories for the farm’s winning tale.

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Helene Miller conducted this interview in September 2016 with Victor Pérez, the director and the executive chief of the agriculture production of olive oil at Finca la Torre, Antequera, Málaga, thanks to Indigo Travel & Events by Peter Claesson.

[1] Hojiblanca, Arbequina, Picudo, Cornicabra




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