Learning about the area's 'liquid gold' in English

Visitors are shown how to taste the olive oil.
Visitors are shown how to taste the olive oil. / JENNIE RHODES
  • Over 70 people attended Riogordo's first olive oil tour and tasting in English last Saturday

Foreign residents from across the Axarquía attended the event which started off at the town's Agro-olivarera cooperative. Participants were able to see first-hand how the olives are sorted upon arrival when they are brought in by local olive growers, through to the mixing process and finally bottling and labelling.

The tour was given by a representative of the cooperative and English interpretation was provided by Leila Lawson, who has lived in the town for 16 years and provides a link between the town hall and foreign residents.

Visitors learned how none of the olive is wasted: the fruit itself obviously goes into the olive oil but the stones are also separated and crushed by machines before being used in pellets for heaters and the leaves used for animal feed among other things.

Following the tour, participants moved onto Riogordo's ethnographic museum where an explanation of the different varieties of olives that are grown in the region, as well as when the olive harvest takes place, was given in English by Alfredo Ribero, Director of Labsur - where olive oil from the area is sent for testing and tasting before it is sold.

The expert compared olive oil to fruit juice, explaining that like buying orange juice, consumers have the choice between 100 per cent freshly squeezed or brands which use concentrate or even add chemicals, which is essentially the difference between extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil and just olive oil.

He also explained that the Verdial variety of olive is only grown in the Axarquía and grows more organically on the mountainous terrain of the area, while other varieties can be grown “intensively” on flatter areas, with trees planted in long, straight rows.

Ribero pointed out the difficulty of this method in the east of Malaga area and added that the olive oil produced here is “more organic” due to the very nature of the land and collection methods available.

While big machinery can be used on flatter land, olive harvesting in the Axarquía still relies on fairly traditional methods of collecting the fruit from the ground after using handheld machines to 'shake' the olives from the trees.

The audience learned that olives have three stages of maturity; when the fruit is still green in October, when it is beginning to turn black, between the end of October and early November, which is considered the optimum picking time and when the fruit has already turned black which is later in December and into January.

He pointed out that the word 'envero', which is sometimes seen on olive oil labels, is the Spanish term to describe the optimum stage of maturity of the olive.

Tight controls

Nowadays, Ribero explained, olive oil is one of the most controlled products in Europe, with the International Olive Council which was established in Madrid in 1959 through the United Nations, keeping a check on standards. A panel of 11 experts must taste each batch of olive oil and it goes through a process of rigorous chemical testing before it is bottled and sold.

While participants tasted the 'liquid gold' as olive oil is known in the area, they were taught how to identify good quality oil, through its taste, which they were told should be peppery and slightly bitter, but not acidic.

The English-language event was organised by the town hall, ethnographic museum, cooperative and Leila Lawson, as a precursor to the town's annual Molinda festival which celebrates this important industry.

This year's event will be on 23, 24 and 25 February, when visitors will be able to see how olives were traditionally milled in the past, using a mule to turn the wheel that pressed the fruit.

There will be tours of the cooperative (in Spanish), tastings and other activities mainly based at the town's ethnographic museum. Further information: Facebook: La Molienda de Riogordo