Twenty-two Mallorcan olives rolled around in the bottom of my bucket. Hardly what you’d call a crop, but – after several years of letting the olives from our young tree rot on the ground – I was determined to do something with the harvest of 2011. Google revealed some instructions for turning my hand-picked crop into a (very small) jar of olives steeped in rosemary-infused oil.
Biting the bullet
To this day, they’re still as hard as bullets and, according to The Boss (and he’s right), inedible. So I’ve pushed the jar to the back of one of the kitchen cupboards – where they’ll probably remain until the dreaded (and hopefully distant) day when we have to move out of our rural idyll for something less high-maintenance. By then, they might make a decent housewarming gift for whoever is lucky enough to buy our little finca . . .
Our friends Annie Sofiano and Martin Page – fellow Brits who moved to Mallorca to open an agroturismo (a country B&B) called Finca Son Jorbo (www.fincasonjorbo.com) – have had much better luck with their crop of olives. But dealing with their 306 olive trees (as opposed to our two) was a lot harder than they originally expected.
Having ignored the trees during the first six years of developing their business, they eventually decided to turn their attention to the neglected trees. “We knew that our farming neighbours were driving past and looking at them pointedly,” says Martin, “So we felt shamed into doing something.”
A Mallorcan masterclass
Martin’s farmer neighbour Miguel first gave the former TV production manager a three-hour masterclass in pruning. Then Martin set about pruning his trees, with Annie gathering and clearing the trimmings away to their bonfire site. It took six bonfires to burn it all. The subsequent weeding by hand, applying fertiliser, and spraying the trees to kill the olive-eating bugs, took the couple a considerable amount of time: “It was extremely hard work – especially for an interior designer from Birmingham!” Annie admits.
Miguel told them when the olives were ready, but reaping the harvest was done almost entirely by Martin and Annie. Once again, their generous Mallorcan neighbour offered his help, lending them some crates, the use of his trailer, and introducing Martin to the local tafona (olive press). To Miguel’s amazement, the couple had picked 400 kilos of olives, with little help: “It’s traditional here for the whole family to get involved,” Annie explains.
From olives to oil
It took four visits to transport the whole harvest to the tafona. On Martin’s last visit, Annie and his parents (who were staying with them at the time) came with him. They’d all spent the morning in Palma and, although Martin changed from his smart going-out clothes into working togs before going to the tafona, Annie went as she was. “As we were getting out of the car at the farmyard, I turned to her and said ‘lose the pashmina’,” Martin says. “In any event, she definitely got some funny looks!”
They paid around 27 cents a kilo for the pressing, which resulted in 63 litres of olive oil, taken home in 10 large plastic containers, to sit in the cellar until they’d searched the Internet and bought bottles, tops, and a machine for sealing the tops.
As friends who’ve been lucky enough to enjoy some of their delicious Finca Son Jorbo olive oil, we’d suggest the effort had been worth it. Annie’s view? “The whole thing’s been a learning experience, but we know we’ve gone up in our Mallorcan neighbours’ estimations.”
You won’t be surprised to know that I haven’t mentioned my own olive endeavours to any of our neighbours . . .
This article is an abridged version of one I wrote for the weekly edition of The Telegraph, published in March 2012.
Read more about Spanish olives on http://www.olivesfromspain.co.uk.