Inside a millennial olive tree at the Pou del Mas open air museum in Spain.
By guest author Avery Bartlett-Golden
In amongst a grove of millennial olive trees, my class and I tasted olive oils from the fall’s harvest. This semester one of my classes at UPV (Universitat Politècnica de València) is oliviculture, or the cultivation of olives. One of my favorite parts of the class are the fieldtrips we have gone on from visiting thousand-year-old olive trees, to practicing pruning the trees, and visiting oil mills.
Our first trip to the Castellón region, between Valencia and Barcelona, was absolutely amazing, introducing us to some of the oldest olive trees in Spain, and in the world. First we toured a cooperative mill where we saw the machines used in producing olive oil. There olives from local producers are brought in by truck, weighed and washed. Then they are ground, centrifuged to separate the oil and mash, and finally the oil is filtered and bottled. Freshly bottled oil is sold regionally.
After visiting the mill, we went to see one of the olive groves that had sent olives to the mill. Among more recently planted trees stood olives that had been cultivated by the early Arabs, as well as some that may have been established by the very last Romans in the area. In front of one of the venerable trees we tasted a sampling of oils from the farm and region.
Our professors described the search for balance among the various elements of olive oil: sweet, salty, bitter, and finally the bite at the end after swallowing. As we listened, we savored and mulled over the complexities in the oils. Noting the differences between filtered and unfiltered and between varieties, we learned about the flavor profiles of the regional cultivars.
Amongst the elders at Pou del Mas open air museum where many thousand-year-old olives grow.
Next, we visited Pou del Mas open air museum, located next to the old Roman road known as Via Augusta, where one of the largest concentration of thousand-year-old olives grow. In one part, there were olives that had been planted around a late Roman house, and another grove marked the site of a Roman racetrack. Standing among these ancient trees was quite humbling, especially as there were no visible traces of the house or track remaining. It was also interesting to learn that while olives trees can survive for a millennium, they don’t produce growth rings that can be counted to estimate age, and often their trunks even become hollow. Thus, the most accurate historical datings have been made by size measurements and by carbon dating trees.
Learning about olives on this trip has helped me understand how olives and olive oil have been an essential part of the southern Mediterranean diet for millennium. It has also given me an appreciation for these beautiful enduring trees and their importance in Spanish culture.
Avery Bartlett-Golden is a Horticulture Science major at North Carolina State University. He is currently studying abroad in Valencia, Spain.
In search of more olives in the Castellón region of Spain.
Annette Bartlett-Golden paints a wide range of subjects from landscapes to animals and makes abstract works with paper. Using vibrant colors, she imparts a sense of immediacy, vivacity and optimism to her paintings and paper collages.