In this new blog in our ‘Local Products’ series, we would like to introduce you to Can Solivera where they produce some of the best quality artisanal extra virgin olive oil you will ever find, not just on the Costa Brava, but anywhere!
Back in 1977 a Dutch couple, Daida and Hans, bought the ruins of an 800-year-old house and the small estate that came with it with a view to their eventual retirement. The surrounding land was owned by local farmers, but the local government had it earmarked for future industrial development. If you ever pay a visit to the estate as it is today you’ll see what a crying shame that would have been! In order to not end up with an industrial estate on their doorstep, Hans and Daida decided to buy up the fields around them, thus increasing their estate to 8 hectares (or about 81000km2).
The house itself is about 800 years old and has such deep foundations that it even survived a huge earthquake in 1428 that caused widespread destruction in the area and killed 800 people. Despite its name Can Solivera, which means House of the Olive Grove, was originally a bakery and the original farmhouse land was terraced long ago for the purposes of drying wheat. It seems appropriate that when the house was restored to being habitable again in 1989 that Hans and Daida decided, after some research, to use their land to plant olive trees. Even more fitting was the fact that Daida’s grandfather was a Catalan from the village of Arbeca, the “source” of Arbequina olive oil!
Recognising that in a country that produces as much olive oil as Spain the market was already saturated (pun intended!) they decided to concentrate on the emerging northern European markets. Furthermore, it was decided to opt for a variety that was uncommon to Spain: Arbequina. And this is what sets them apart! Picual is by far the most common variety of olive tree in most of Spain (although there are others) as it yields around twice as much olive oil, but its taste is more bitter when compared to the milder and more aromatic Arbequina oil. The Arbequina variety had actually been largely forgotten about and almost disappeared until fairly recently. The “Legend of Arbequina” and its comeback story is worth a read.
Once the decision was made an irrigation system was put in place and 1300 one-year-old trees were purchased and planted. Trees whose olives will be picked by machine need to be planted close together but at Can Solivera the olives are picked by hand and so the trees are planted farther apart.
Once the olive harvest is in the next step is, of course, to produce the oil. Most olives in Spain are milled by co-operatives, each having a couple of hundred members or more. The reality in the co-ops is that it is nearly impossible to keep separate the different varieties and qualities of olive that come in from the harvests of all the member farmers. For this reason Can Solivera with their Arbequina olives which, don’t forget, produce about half the oil of other varieties (but with more flavour!), has its olive oil produced at a co-operative at the start of the day (before the other producers) and placed directly into their own containers in order to be able to stand over the quality of its oil. Their oil is also produced by a miller the old-fashioned way, using a stone mill.
Only the best
They only produce extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) at Can Solivera, meaning that the natural acidity cannot exceed 0.8%. The quality is regulated by the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) and every bottle of olive oil has to show which quality category it belongs to. EVOO is the highest category – we won’t bore you with rest here! EVOO has the least oxidation of all the categories and will be good for about 2 years from production. There is mandatory certification process by an independent food laboratory and the quality of flavour is also verified by a professional tasting panel. Can Solivera olive oil also has an E.U Organic Certification that guarantees the absence of any heavy metals or chemicals as well as the traceability of each bottle of its EVOO back to its very origin. This is not the case with the bigger producers.
All fresh olive oil is cloudy because of micro particles of the olive fruit. Most large producers remove these using artificial filters in order to give the oil a clearer appearance, but naturally this affects the flavour and aroma of the oil. Can Solivera prefer to store the oil in large vats at room temperature and in darkness for 2 to 3 months and let the sediment sink naturally to the bottom leaving the clear oil. This has the advantage of preserving the original taste and, as a bonus, leaves the residue which is then used to make soap. Can Solivera are the only producers of 100% extra virgin olive oil soap. They produce it in both solid and liquid form and it is particularly good for skin conditions such as psoriasis as it contains a mild exfoliant. They also produce a perfume called Daida (named after guess who!).
With production in full swing there was one more hurdle to overcome: convincing consumers about the difference in quality for the price compared to other olive oils. And thus began the tours! Visitors are welcomed from cookery schools, hotels, cruises stopping in Palamós port and many more holidaymakers from all over the world, and not forgetting the locals of course. The tour includes an informative video (in various languages) followed by a tour of the gardens and olive groves and finally the all-important tasting. The gardens are truly beautiful with lots of different varieties of trees apart from the olive trees themselves. In one of our previous blogs you may have read about how wild boar have come to be considered as a pest by many in this region. This is not the case in Can Solivera as they act almost as gardeners, eating away the weeds and helping to keep the groves healthy.
While it might have taken a little work to win over some customers in the beginning, it is safe to say they are now well and truly convinced! Around half of the olive oil produced by Can Solivera goes to professional kitchens in northern Europe, especially the Netherlands. In fact, demand grew so significantly that since 2001 Can Solivera have started three other Arbequina farms in different regions of Spain (which helps reduce the risk of a poor harvest due to weather conditions in one area in a given year) and in 2014 they also began exporting their award-winning EVOO to North America through their own company, set up in California.
While we hope this short introduction has piqued your interest, it is just that – an introduction. If you would like to find out more, you should have a look at the Can Solivera website where things are explained in a lot more detail. It makes for some very interesting reading! You’ll also find the times that tours are available, as well as the “Legend of Arbequina” story mentioned above.