Touring the Olive Grove at Proyecto Los Aires
On a recent trip to Spain, I visited Proyecto Los Aires, a small olive oil producer based in Arcicollar, Spain. Husband-and-wife Guillermo and Laura operate this picturesque olive grove, about 1 hour from Madrid. Interestingly, both were biologists who changed career paths to pursue family traditions, teaching themselves the art of olive oil production.
It was an early Sunday morning as we began our journey by bus from Madrid to Arcicollar. When we arrived, Guillermo picked us up at the bus stop in the town of only 800 residents. He took us to their oldest grove, with trees dating back at least 200 years. Much to our surprise, this was the beginning of an informative yet exciting morning.
Olive Oil Tasting & Classifications
The tour started with Guillermo explaining the history, maintenance techniques, and olive oil production methods. The second part of the tour was a tasting led by Laura. She began by explaining the different classifications of olive oil, which are: Extra-Virgin, Olive Oil, and Lampante. "Virgin" olive oil is extracted by pressing, rather than heat or chemical treatment. Extra-virgin is the highest quality. "Olive oil" may be a blend of refined and virgin oils. The chemicals or heat used in refinement can damage the compounds that give the oil taste, color, and aroma. Lampante oil, named for its use in oil lamps, is pressed oil of poor taste and odor. Lampante must be refined to be used for human consumption.
By law, each olive oil that is produced has to be submitted to a tasting panel to determine its proper level. This rigorous process includes tasting and smelling each olive oil. Then, based on this, the panel looks for three main criteria: fruitiness, bitterness and spiciness. Extra-Virgin must have all three of these aspects.
After a thorough explanation, it was now our turn to blindly taste several olive oils. Based on the criteria, the one olive oil that had all three aspects was Proyecto Los Aires, starting with a fruity perfume, a bitter taste, and ending with a strong spicy finish. Organic farming practices, implemented when Guillermo and Laura took over the fields, makes their Cornicabra olives high-quality enough for extra-virgin oil.
A Trip to Remember
We ended our visit with a lunch consisting of local specialties: toasts with a variety of spreads, Manchego cheeses, and sliced meats. The meal finished with Laura's homemade olive oil marmalade with a rich dark chocolate.
To say the least, visiting the grove was one of my favorite highlights from the trip. The remarkable hospitality of Guillermo and Laura made for a memorable and educational Sunday morning.
The passion for their work was evident in their enthusiastic explanations and motivation to master their craft. Meeting and supporting the artisans behind small businesses truly makes for a deeper appreciation and understanding of high-quality, passion-driven products!
Bringing the Harvest Home
Author Nikki Crugnale works at the bakery and register at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.