It might not have been a bad thing to avoid the hordes of tourists at the Alhambra. It forced me to look for other things to do and so we ended up seeing things that people usually overlook. The whole family had fun at the Olive Oil Tour (in Niguelas) and lunch in the small village of Durcal. It appears to be a tour popular with the Spanish themselves, or with people who already live in Spain. As such, it was a very authentic experience.
We viewed the Alhambra on Youtube instead (When the Moors Ruled in Europe) - HERE. There were no crowds to spoil the beauty of the architecture. The experience was free. The commentary was in-depth and intelligent (though somewhat biased).
The Olive Oil Tour comprised oil tasting. It was delicious.
This olive tree is 500 years old.
At the base of the tree, there are suckers. You can pluck these out and replant them to grow another olive tree. Farmers usually destroy these suckers because when there are too many suckers, the tree produces less fruit.
The fruits have turned black and are ready for harvest. Olives that are still green have little oil content. The black olives yield 20% of oil per unitary weight. It appears that there are 276 different varieties of olive trees in Spain alone.
Harvested olives were placed into these compartments. Each family had its own compartment. Olives were then examined for quality. Poor quality fruits were discarded. Similar quality fruits were processed together in the same batch to yield an oil that blended the harvest from several farms of equivalent quality. Each family's harvest was weighed beforehand in order to determine the percentage of olive oil owing to each family. In some mills, if one family met the minimum quantity criteria, they could request that the mill process their harvest on its own. This system of shared milling still exists today but the machinery has now been modernised.
This old mill we visited dates from the 15th century and is 500 years old. It is the oldest mill in Spain in a state of excellent repair.
The olives were crushed with a giant millstone pulled by a donkey. A dark brown olive paste resulted from the crush.
The olive paste was spread onto straw mats. The straw mats were stacked one on top of another inside a hole. A humongous seesaw-like machine would compress the straw mats and olive paste to extract all the liquids.
The liquid flowed into this stone pit. The olive juice is denser and settled on the bottom. The olive oil rose to the top and was scooped up. This was the cold-pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
The dried olive paste was mixed with warm water in the earthenware pot. You can see the furnace where they threw the olive pits, leaves and branches to heat the water. This paste with warm water, was then compressed again. This time, it yielded poor quality oil that was not fit for human consumption. In the past, Spaniards used these to light lamps.
Olive oil fraud is prevalent in Spain and all over the world. Bottled olive oils found in supermarkets are almost certainly NOT cold-pressed extra virgin. It is a type of fraud that is hard to control. The best way to ensure that you are getting pure cold-pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil is to buy straight from a farm that you know and trust. I buy mine from Ashbolt Farm in Australia.
The olive oil was stored in these man-sized earthenware jugs.
These were canisters used to measure out the oil for apportionment to different families.
Table set up for oil tasting
One had to warm the oil by cupping the bottom of the cup. Then, one had to smell the oil.
Only then, were we allowed to soak the oil onto bread and chow down. The children went to town with all that bread and olive oil.
One of the oils we tasted had been infused with Seville orange peel. The Spaniards drizzle on toast and liven it up with a few grains of brown sugar. The citrusy sweet smell went so well with the sugar grains. Then The Daughter commented that it is a bit like eating butter with sugar sprinkled on top.
If you wish to experience this tour, go HERE. We were very impressed with the organisation of the tour and the quality of the explanation.