With the warm breeze drifting in through open patio doors, the sound of birdsong and bright sunlight I could almost be back in the rolling hills of Andalucia at the beautiful El Herrerillo olive grove. Meaning Blue Tit in English, El Herrerillo is a true labour of love for Álvaro whose family have been producing Extra Virgin Olive Oil here for over 20 years, going fully organic back in 1998.
As regular readers of this blog will have realised, producing Extra Virgin Olive Oil is not for the faint-hearted. For small producers at the artisan end of the market it’s hard, physical work, a labour of love and something akin to an addiction. Listening to them talking about their trees, the environment, the eco system and the finished product is a real privilege – the passion and joy that is inspired by this centuries old fruit is completely infectious. And Álvaro is no exception. To spend time with him in the olive grove is to be caught up by the bug of EVOO.
With around 8.6 hectares (roughly 21 acres) and 1,100 trees, the olivar produces around 2,000 litres of Extra Virgin Olive Oil a year. It is organic, produced from either the single variety of olive – Picual or the wild olive trees (called Acebuche in Spanish).
During the course of 2017 Álvaro and his team have planted 450 new trees, all Picual (also known as Marteño) and sourced as saplings from Cordoba. They will need watering for the first couples of years and should start to produce useable olives in the third year.
If you are lucky enough to be close to Medina Sidonia you might spot Álvaro at one of the local farmer’s markets or food fairs. Otherwise products can be purchased online (be warned, they sell very quickly!) and delivery is free within the province of Cadiz.
The El Herrerillo Picual sells for around 11 Euro a half litre and tastes of olive leaf, peppery and quite strong with a slight bitterness at the back of the throat. When I had friends around for dinner in Vejer recently and we did an informal tasting of half a dozen EVOOs this one was the clear winner.
Now the Acebuchina is an interesting one. There are many aficionados in the world who absolutely love EVOOs produced from wild olive trees. They are much harder to harvest because of the smaller olives and size and shape of the trees, they are uncontrolled in the sense that each year the taste will reflect the environment in which the olives grew – they will not be the same each year.
Whilst the same could be said for all EVOO, the ‘farmed’ trees are monitored, watered where necessary and the EVOO can be blended with the previous year’s to achieve the flavour the producer wants. With wild trees they are, well – wild! You get from them what they give you. The price of course reflects these additional challenges and the 2015 which we tasted (of which only 32 litres were produced) was thicker than the Picual, sweeter, with flavours of cut grass and almonds. I personally love this oil but, as I said before, the Acebuches tend to be more for the fans. A quarter litre is available on the website for 10 Euro, a steal for something so special.