By Lisa on Dec 15, 2014 with Comments 1
When you think of Soller in Mallorca, don’t you think of a busy little Mediterranean town with a magnificent square showing off all the most important buildings and a splendid concoction of architectural styles?
Don’t you think of a valley in the Tramuntana Mountains, where the warm sunshine makes oranges glow bright on the trees? Don’t you think of the wooden carriage train that trundles through the valley and through the tunnels down to Palma?
What else do you think of when your mind conjures up images of Soller in Mallorca?
Bet you don’t think much about the production of that fantastic olive oil that comes from Soller do you? Bet you don’t wonder about the people who harvest the olives by hand, about how the olives are pressed and how it ends up as a bottle of cooking oil in your kitchen, do you?
Neither did I until I visited the Cooperativa Agrícola de Soller Sant Bartomeu…
Cooperativa Agrícola de Soller Sant Bartomeu
We were very kindly met by three ladies; representatives of both the Cooperativa Sant Bartomeu and Oli de Mallorca, who dedicated their morning to giving us a tour of the installations, a detailed presentation, and even taking us for a walk in the spectacular terraced hillsides of Soller where they pointed out to us some of the oldest olive trees in the Serra de Tramuntana.
We rolled up bright and early at 9am one very crisp morning last week. We abandoned the cars somewhere in Soller Village and found our way to Capvespre. That’s the name of the centre that the cooperative uses as a headquarters in Soller.
Capvespre makes a great visitors’ centre, the aim of which is to allow visitors to learn about the local products, systems and methods of cultivation and harvesting and to show the environmentally sustainable techniques applied by farmers of the area who are producing quality products with these techniques.
The name given to the centre has an interesting philosophy behind it. Capvespre means afternoon or evening in Mallorquin…
The centre, “Capvespre”, the afternoon, pretends to use the transition from day to night when the light still gives us the chance to perceive the abundance of the perishing day and to document it and to save it at least partially from its disappearance, for the knowledge and profit of future generations.
Okay, so clearly an automated programme like Google Translator has been used to translate the centre’s material into English, but you get the idea.
I liked more the way Irene, one of the ladies who showed us around, put it:
Capvespre is a centre and a project to show what we have done in the past, the work we are currently doing in the present, and to leave a space for the future.
At the centre there is a very nice display of the local products, and visitors have the opportunity to purchase olive oil, olives, marmalades and other products.
Upstairs in the Capvespre building there is a beautiful information centre with high tables where they do oil tastings and have tactile screens with information about Soller and the Tramuntana area as well as about the production of olive oil and other typical products. They even have a classroom where they can do show cooking. They have many educational visits and there was actually a school group there at the same time as us.
Outside the centre is where all the work takes place.
There is a loading area with large industrial scales for weighing the produce. There are presses, mills, sorters and plenty of machinery for each stage of the process of making olive oil.
Local people can bring their own crop of olives here to have the cooperative turn it into olive oil just for their own consumption, and certified farmers can bring their olives here to sell to the cooperative to contribute towards the prestigious Oli de Mallorca (olive oil of Mallorca) that carries the Denominación de Origen (Designation of Origen – DO) certificate.
Oli de Mallorca – Designation of Origen
At the Capvespre centre, they produce the DO certified Oli de Mallorca in special installations where only the selected and approved olives can be processed.
Anyone with a press and some olives can make olive oil, but not just anyone can produce olive oil with a DO certificate. Next time you are buying olive oil in Mallorca, look out for DO Oli de Mallorca.
There are certain criteria that have to be met for olive oil to be classed as DO and three things must be taken into account:
- TRADITION: The production must follow a traditional method, and here in Mallorca the olives are cold pressed, so using heat as they do in other areas is not permitted.
- GEOGRAPHY: The olives have to come from a selected are in the Tramuntana and certain farmers have their fruit trees approved to participate in the DO selection.
- QUALITY: There are strict quality controls to ensure that the olives used for the Oli de Mallorca are of high quality and are in good condition.
There are only four varieties of olive allowed to make DO Oli de Mallorca and they are:
Incidentally, until 2011 they thought that mallorquina and empetre were the same variety!
Unlike with wine production in DO approved wine cellars, with olive oil there does not have to be a specific proportion of one variety of olive or another. If you want you can produce oil that is 100% arbequina or you can produce oil that is a coupage of all four varieties and still sell it as DO.
During the controls of the olive oil for the DO, the olive oil is sent away to be tested in laboratories in Catalunya, because there are no labs in Mallorca for this type of testing. Not even one litre of oil escapes the quality controls, and every batch is given a serial number and every bottle is given a sticker with the batch number on it.
Interesting fact: 90% of the olive trees that bear the fruit used to produce Oli de Mallorca are over 500 years old.
Making Mallorcan olive oil
The farmers harvest the olives in the way that they see fit – many still harvest by hand due to the fact that in certain parts of the mountain area it is impossible to operate machinery on the steep hills – and they bring them to the Cooperativa Sant Bartomeu to sell them.
Then the olives are pressed using cold stone presses. The oil is extracted from the resulting paste and then the impurities are removed. The oil is left in huge sealed vats while it is tested for acidity levels and while samples are sent to Catalunya for testing in the lab.
Only olive oil categorised as Virgen Extra can be sold as DO Oli de Mallorca, and for this it has to meet a few standards: it must be pure juice from the fruit, it must have an acidity level not exceeding 0.8 degrees and it must be without defects according to assessment by expert tasters.
Only then can it be bottled, stamped and sold.
Do you want to visit the Cooperativa de Sant Bartomeu?
If you do want to visit the Cooperativa de Sant Bartomeu, you can. But if I were you I would drop them a line first because they are making some changes to what they offer. And when we went they didn’t have it very clear what they were offering. For example, when asked what tastings they were offering the public they told us that whatever was in season. When we wondered what was in season now we were told mandarins. But when we asked what someone arriving at the centre could taste right now the answer was olive oil!
However, they do have some good ideas and I’m sure that they’ll have the creases straightened out soon enough.
They are charging 5€ per person for a tour and a taste. They will show you the proper way to taste olive oil and the things to look for.
If you are a group and you want a more complete visit, you can get in touch with the cooperative to arrange a tour of one of the estates where the olive trees are cultivated.
You can also get information about some suggested walks that they have put together, taking you through the Soller countryside, through some of the orchards with the most interesting-looking olive trees you’ve ever imagined.
And while we were there, the lovely ladies took us on one such walk. Here are some photos from it…
If you can’t see the slideshow below, click here.
If you want to do one of these walks yourself, check out the cooperative’s website: www.cooperativasoller.com
They did tell me that their website is in English, which it is not. But I believe they are making some updates so keep checking for new info and more languages.
Want to discover more things that we get up to in Mallorca with our Winter Activities group? Here are a few:
About the Author: Lisa, born and grew up in England, live in Mallorca, Spain... Have visited more than 20 countries, have twice as many to yet visit, love sharing experiences....