Recipes and News
2014 Harvest (so far...)
There has been much in the press recently about this year’s olive harvest, or the possible lack thereof. Andalucia, which is Spain’s biggest olive oil producer, suffered a prolonged drought over the summer, and Puglia, Italy’s equivalent region (producing one third of the country’s annual crop), has been cursed with a blight - the insect-borne xylella fastidiosa. Horrifyingly, farmers have had to resort to burning infected groves in order to stem the spread of the bacteria, which causes trees to shrivel up and stop bearing fruit. To make matters worse, this epidemic reached a head during August, when many in Italy traditionally go on a month-long holiday. This led to the authorities being criticised for their slow reactions – as one member of the national agricultural organisation dryly put it, ‘Xylella does not go on holiday.’
The latest IOC estimates for the 2014-2015 harvest predict that there will be a drop in production from the 3.164 million tonnes of olive oil produced last year to 2.56 million this. Happily, Greece, at least, is looking to nearly double its output after the very poor harvest it experienced last year.
Our producers have sent some reports of their experiences over the past few months, and though it has not been plain sailing for any of them, we are feeling cautiously optimistic that they have fared much better than many of the olive growers across Spain and Italy.
In Spain, the crop got off to a challenging start in May, when temperatures reached up to 38 degrees celsius during the day. This coincided with the flowering of the olive trees, damaging some of the blossom. Thankfully, during the evenings temperatures dropped and groves on the south west side of the country had the benefit of cooling Atlantic breezes. The rampant drought was less of a problem for those who had irrigation, obviously, and for that reason we are only expecting our Spanish producers to see a 10-15% drop in production, as opposed to the 50% decrease that is predicted for the country as a whole.
Meanwhile, producers in Italy are facing the fallout of an extremely humid summer, and the diseases that inevitably go with that. On writing this one producer was still unsure which varieties they would be able to harvest, and noted that the rumour mill was abuzz with the soaring prices of olives picked so far in Gargano, Apulia.
Many have complained of battles with the olive fruit fly, and there is no doubt that this year has not been an easy one. More news to come once harvests are over…
New Season's Oil from the Morgenster Estate
We are very pleased to have just recieved the first shipment of 2014 new season oil, from the Morgenster Estate in South Africa. Tasting wonderful, as always, this year's oil has a fresh, verdant aroma of crushed thistles, with hints of freshly cut grass and a deeper background note of wet herbs.
On the pallet it has a creamy texture at the front of the mouth, reminiscent of raw courgette, with an elegant and growing bitterness abounding with flavours of mesclun and rocket. A rounded and well-balanced black pepper finish lasts long in the mouth after swallowing.
The Morgenster Estate's exceptional terroir makes it ideal for producing a Bordeaux style of wine and an Italian style of olive oil, both of which are extremely highly regarded. Their olive oil last year recieved 98 points in the respected Flos Olei guide, making it one of the top eleven oils in the world.
Here is a short extract of their 2014 Harvest report. You can read the full report on the Morgenster producer page.
'The 2014 Morgenster olive harvest will go down in history for two things – being small, and of great quality. By nature the olive is a cyclical producer. After a large harvest in 2013 it was expected that 2014 might not be as big. However, unfavourable weather conditions during the flowering period, which lasted only around 10 days, also had a significant impact. Ideally, best conditions are needed for pollination of as many flowers as possible.
By harvest time things had improved and we were able to pick all our different cultivars in optimum conditions with no overlapping of cultivars. This benefit enabled us to be even more focused than normal during the oil extraction phase.'
This weekend I was lucky enough to attend a Spanish Olive Oil Master Class at the Rioja Tapas Fantásticas event on the South Bank in London.
The festival was a bountiful opportunity to sample the wines of la Rioja, while food tents offered delicious morsels from restaurants and tapas bars across London, including Morito and Bar Tozino, in a vibrant celebration of Spanish gastronomy. We were very pleased to have three of our oils – two from the wonderful Valdueza Estate alongside the Vea family’s delicious L’Estornell organic EVOO – represented in the tasting.
Demonstrating ways to cook with the oils was Nieves Barragán. Originally from the Basque country, Nieves is head chef at Fino and its sister restaurant Barrafina, in Soho (two places to which I shall be heading after sampling her delicious food). Meanwhile, María José Sevilla, the eminent Director of Foods and Wines from Spain, author, and television presenter, gave us a lively and intersting tutored tasting (which included a smoked olive oil – surprisingly delicious!)
Barragán first made a vibrant plate of warmed spring vegetables which had been generously coated in Valdueza olive oil; it is food like this which reminds one of how few ingredients are necessary when they are as fresh and tasty as these were. She then served us a mixed berry salad with marjoram vinaigrette, vanilla cream and, of course, olive oil. It was beautiful! Sharp and fresh yet soft and rich at the same time, and a completely new way of cooking with olive oil for me.
I’m sure Tapas Fantásticas will be returning again next year, and I highly recommend a visit.