Thursday, April 16, 2015
After two wonderful activity packed days in Granada, I decided to get out of the big city of Granada to explore a small white-walled village nestled in the snowcapped Sierra Nevadas, while Al and Norm hit the shops in the lower Albaycín Moorish area of the city. Ingrid agreed to accompany me, so we were off with a tour group to Niguelas to learn about olives and olive oil with a little bit of wine and sherry tasting thrown in.
Our first stop was at the olive grove where our guide,Violetta, showed us a 300 year old olive tree, as well as showing us the flower buds that will soon open. It seems that the different colors of olive are determined by their ripeness, with black olives being the most ripe. They ripen in November and need to be picked and processed right away. To pick them in early times, the farmer laid a net or cloth under the tree, and then shook the tree to make the olives fall. He’d roll up the net, fasten it to his donkey and go to the mill to process the olives.
In modern times, the farmer has a machine that grabs the tree and shakes the olives into an inverted umbrella shaped gatherer. The olives are transported to the cooperative mill, where the loose leaves are blown away, and the olives are washed with water no warmer than 85 degrees and then pressed. This is called cold pressed extra virgin olive oils, the only kind you want to buy. The remains of this process are pressed again and used in soaps, lotions and food for animals. Forty percent of the olive produced in the world is produced in Spain and 80% of that is produced in Andalucia.
From the olive grove, we were driven to Niguelas to tour the old mill. The mill operated in the 1500s, powered by a donkey. The water system used to irrigate the mill was developed by the Moors in the same fashion as used in the Alhambra. Water still rushes through viaducts under the town, directed by sluices opened and closed by the various farmers to direct water towards their groves.
A pomegranate tree (in bloom) also grown in this region, along with apple trees and almond trees. The Spanish word for pommegranate is “GRANADA.”
A grinding stone from the 1500s that was pulled by a donkey to grind the olives, pit and all.
The ground olives were spread on many of these mats, (behind his boot), the mats were stacked, and then pressed so the olive oil flowed through them, leaving the grit behind, into a conduit which delivered it to a ceramic reservoir.
The oil would flow from the press into this type of receptacle.
The oil was then scooped into dark ceramic storage jugs securely covered to keep the light out. Violetta’s advice was to buy olive oil in dark glass bottles and to store it in a dark place. After touring the old mill, we walked through the town, sampling the fresh flowing water on the way, and entered the tasting room.
The tasting room had a charming ambience… Always important to me! 😜
We sniffed, warmed the cup in our hands, sniffed again and sipped a bit of each oil in turn. The oil had a creamy, buttery taste on the tip of our tongues; then a sharper taste on our inner cheeks, and finally, a peppery, bitter taste as we swallowed it. The peppery taste made some people cough, it was so distinct. Then we dipped bread in it and enjoyed the flavor. The 4th one was basil infused-yum! The 5th one was infused with orange flavor from the oranges we see hanging from the trees which are too bitter to eat straight out, but are used in the production of other products. The orange flavored oil is sprinkled on bread along with sugar as an after-school treat for children. Yum! I thoroughly enjoyed this tour that took us into the reality of Spanish life and away from the historic and tourist centers for a part of this day. I will look for more opportunities like this.
Read my next blog to learn about the wine tasting… Soon to come.