Great to see two long standing contacts now linked together in a thriving business partnership:
I first came across Soler Romero organic extra virgin olive oil fourteen year ago. I was on a general visit to the Jaen region of Spain and Cortijo El Tobazo was part of the itinerary. I was struck by the history of the region and the estate. It is possible that olive oil production here goes back to Roman times; the well that serves the main house on the estate is Roman in origin. It is also on the Caliphate route that linked Cordoba with Granada during the Moorish era.
At the time of my visit the estate had been in the family of the current owners since the mid-1800’s. A good many of the olive trees were planted 90 to 100 years ago but there are still some older trees on upper hillsides. All the Soler Romero oil is pressed from olives grown on the estate and the estate boasts its own mill.
I was also very impressed by the dedication of the owners to sustainable organic farming methods. There is plenty of space between the rows of olive trees for grass and flowers to grow – better for bio-diversity and soil drainage and preventing soil erosion. A local shepherd used to graze his sheep here which kept the grass down and fertilised the land naturally and some of the annual pruning is left to rot on the ground.
Harvesting takes place early in October and all the olives get to the mill within two hours of picking. Here, too, there is complete dedication to best practice and everything is cleaned daily. I saw that the bottling plant even stands in its own room with the operator in a separate section.
My visit was also particularly memorable for the wonderful hospitality of the family. After the tour of the groves and the mill, my partner and I were invited to join them for a drink and bite to eat at their home. I can still see the spread of tapas dishes on a huge square coffee table in the middle of the drawing room. All my favourite items were there and more warm dishes were brought in to augment the feast from time to time. I must admit that I had a good tuck in!
After an hour or so I started to thank them and to say that we ought to be getting on our way. There was a slightly embarrassed silence and then our host said that actually we were about to go into the dining room for lunch. Of course, we stayed. The lunch, too, was excellent with interesting dishes designed to showcase their oil but I did wish that I had not been quite so greedy with the tapas dishes!
At the time of that first visit Soler Romero oil was not available anywhere in the UK. Now it is the base for the very successful “The Gay Farmer” brand. I met Mark Dyer, the man behind this brand, eight years ago when he was just setting up in the oil business, importing an oil from his Mother’s farm in North Murcia. He has invited me to assess and describe his oils for him each year since then. As the business grew he started to import from other sources in Spain and last year teamed up with Cortijo El Tobazo and now packs their oil under his own label.
I think that the current 2019 harvest is probably the best Gay Farmer EVOO yet. It is a blend of Picual and Arbequina from olives grown on the farm south of the town of Jaen in Andalucia. It has a deeply aromatic aroma with a complex mix of herbs, stalks and greenery with some citrus tones. It is equally characterful in the mouth with very well balanced fruitiness, bitterness and pepper and a long aftertaste with tomato skins, rocket and basil.