Situated in the heart of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range in the village of Valldemossa, not far away from Deià, the Majorcan finca Son Moragues is a haven for lovers of local, organic produce. This is the place where the famous Majorcan extra virgin olive oil is produced, along with a variety of homemade Mediterranean jams and a wide range of fruits and vegetables. The property has over 100 hectares of dry stone terraced olive groves with over 10,000 olive trees, aged between 200-700 years, and is managed by a young, highly dedicated team using sustainable, certified-organic farming methods. When we passed through in the beginning of October to learn more about the complexity of olive oil, this year’s olive harvest had just started.
"From the beginning to the end, it’s all about adapting to nature and to what we have, rather than adapting it to us."
Tell us a bit about the area around Son Moragues.
Joe: The finca lies in the middle of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2011, because of human impact on the area’s natural ecosystem. When the area was first colonized, around 700 years ago, there were no grounds flat or deep enough to plant new crops. So the inhabitants began to graft the wild olive trees that had grown all over the area for thousands of years. You must know, that wild olive trees are not really productive because of their small olives. Over time, the first terraces and water systems were built, followed by the cultivation of other varieties of fruit and vegetables. Looking back, you can say that the olive tree is the cornerstone of the whole Tramuntana mountain ecosystem.
How would you best describe the philosophy of Son Moragues?
Joe: The way we eat, and the way we produce what we eat, is probably one of the biggest problems of our time. But producing with chemicals is almost a default.
At Son Moragues, we believe in taking the best from our history and our traditions, and bringing it back to life with the best contemporary knowledge.
And how exactly do you do that?
Joe: From the beginning to the end, it’s all about adapting to nature and to what we have, rather than adapting it to us. We’re cultivating ancient olive trees, and don’t work with commercially planted ones. Our sheep help to keep the trees healthy by eating the shoots which would deprive the trees of energy, and by producing a natural fertilizer. Being a certified-organic olive oil producing estate, we dispense with any kind of pesticides. Instead, we spray the trees with a natural clay that protects them from the plagues of the undesirable olive fruit flies and the sun of the sweltering Mediterranean summers. Our olives are carefully harvested by hand, and are processed with state of the art centrifuge extractors.
"You can make excellent olive oil with different kinds of olives. Some will be more productive than others.
But what really matters, is the care in the process."
What are the biggest challenges and benefits in producing olive oil sustainably?
Joe: Everything is ten times more difficult, ten times more expensive. But the benefits are massive! Cultivating these olive trees in accordance with nature is the only way to keep this estate and the Tramuntana mountain ecosystem alive. So we have to keep the trees healthy, now more than ever.
Tell us about the olive oil process at Son Moragues. What does it look like?
Joe: The harvest season usually starts in mid-October. We harvest carefully by hand, with olive pickers and nets. In order to avoid crushing and prevent any fermentation caused by humidity, we transport the olives in quite small, ventilated boxes. We weigh, wash and classify them by hand according to ripeness and health, and subsequently start the pressing process. The result is a paste, which is mixed below 27 degrees temperature for around 20 minutes, and is processed by a two-phase centrifuge to separate the oil from the wet paste. After a second, final separation, the olive oil is filtered and bottled.
Some people say that a green color is an indication of good quality olive oil. Is this true?
Joe: No. The color has nothing to do with the flavor or the quality of the oil. It depends on the olive variety or the handling process in general. For some reason, green olive oil became quite fashionable. So many of the oils sold in stores all over the world actually contain pigments of green color.
What would you say is the secret behind good olive oil?
Joe: A healthy fruit has zero acidity. Once a fruit hits the ground, is picked, damaged or attacked by pests, the acidity starts to increase, which at the same time means that the vitamin and polyphenol content decreases. You can make excellent olive oil with different kinds of olives. Some will be more productive than others. But what really matters, is the care in the process. And that starts with the right soil, the careful growing, pruning and picking, and ends with a gentle way of processing the olives.
Talking about different olive varieties, which one do you grow?
Joe: We’re cultivating ancient olive trees of an olive variety named Mallorquina. It’s the oldest and most autochthonous one in Mallorca and has a very particular, delicate flavor and extra high levels of polyphenols, which are the powerful antioxidants. Our oil has a higher proportion of green olives than black and that makes it especially healthy and gives it its characteristic fresh flavor and gold color.
After two years, extra virgin olive oil naturally turns into virgin olive oil. Can you explain the differences and why regular olive oil by far, is the worst alternative among the three?
Joe: Regular olive oil shouldn’t really even be called olive oil. If an olive oil doesn’t specify that it is virgin or extra virgin that means it is made from foul tasting low grade oil, which is chemically refined to erase all traces of smell, taste and color and then colored and flavored with tiny amounts of quality olive oil and artificial additives. As for real olive oil, the difference between virgin and extra virgin olive oil is based on two factors - the acidity, which is determined by a laboratory test, and the taste, evaluated by a panel of experts. If the level of acidity is below 0.8 % and the oil doesn’t show any defects in fruitiness, bitterness and spiciness, then it can be labeled as an extra virgin olive oil. But of course, as olive oil is not a stable product like a preserve or even a wine, after two years the acidity will have risen and the flavor will have deteriorated; therefore it will no longer be considered an extra virgin olive oil.
For more info visit the Son Moragues website .
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Photos: THE FRANK STORY, Son Moragues