Since joining the Festivaldelgusto and Olivaverde crew at the beginning of the 2017 I have been in the enviable position of being able to experience some amazing olive oil, charcuterie, cheeses and wines from some of the finest producers in Spain. Additionally, I’ve had the good fortune to be included in some marvellous tasting events without even having to leave the province of Granada, which is where I live.
A recent such instance was an excursion to an historic 500 year old olive mill in the nearby Lecrin Valley, located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and benefiting from the irrigation channels (Acequia) which have been used since Roman times. My trip included a tour of the olive groves to visit the mature olive trees, some of which were several hundred years old and still producing top quality olives.
I had the opportunity to taste some premium olive oils from the province as well as tour the exquisitely preserved 500 year old olive mill, now in use as a museum and tourist attraction. The mill is situated in the heart of the small white washed village of Niguelas. It was really delighted to discover such gem less than forty five minutes from my home. So with excitement, I set off to meet the wonderful Violetta who was to be my chauffeur, guide and olive oil aficionado for the three hour trip. Just as an added incentive, (as if I needed any) the tour also included a chance to participate in a sherry and wine tasting, because let’s face it we are in Spain and well...Why not?
From the olive groves we made our way to the mill itself, which is basically clinging to a cliff with amazing views across the valley and beyond. The mill is beautifully preserved and allows you to revisit the old techniques used to produce olive oil. The mill stones are still in place and were once powered by donkeys who would turn the stone and the olives would be turned into paste. There are examples of the circular straw mats where the paste would be spread and piled one on top of the other before being placed under an extremely imposing wooden press. The cog would be turned to tighten the press and the olive oil would be squeezed out to drain away into vats. This was the oil of the best quality, what we know as the first cold pressed oil. There would be a second press which would include an addition of warm water and the oil extracted here would be for lamps and soaps.
After the mill we then walked along to the tasting room, which was part classroom and part kitchen/shop. There was a short video which explained the current extraction methods and gave some insight in to the Spanish Olive Oil Industry, the types of tree variety and planting methods in use today. Finally we moved on to the most exciting part, the tasting!
It was very informal and not beyond even the least knowledgeable person, and it was very entertaining as well as interesting. We tasted several oils, in the correct way, from the traditional blue glass, which masks any colour variations between the oils. We tried oils flavoured with orange oil and infused with basil, and also different salts, one of which was taken from an underground lake and was dated back to prehistoric times. We made a small dressing of an oil of our choice, the finest sherry vinegar and one of the salts. Everything was tasted with beautiful fresh bread, and between tasting we also feasted on local olives, Manchego cheese from the La Mancha region and thinly sliced Jamon Iberico from the high mountain village Trevelez, which is the highest village in Spain. The wine tasting followed with several wines, red, white and sparkling, from the Andalusia area and then a sweet and also dry sherry for comparison.
For anyone staying in Granada this trip is a must, it’s a nice change to get out of the busy bustling city and see a small white washed village which probably still resembles the way it looked in the 15th Century. Violetta is a wonderful host and is so knowledgeable about the history, methods and products. It was a real treat to be included in the tour and I would certainly recommend it if you have the opportunity.