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Olivaria – Spanish Olive Oil, part 2 Olive Juice and Other Ideas

May 15, 2010

We’re at Alimentaria Barcelona, the mega trade show for food and wine held in Spain each year, and as I walked through the 6,000 square foot olive oil showcase called “Olivaria“, it was an utter delight to see Rosa Vañó of Castillo de Canena emerge from the crowd.

Rosa is the marketing and commercial manager of her family’s olive oil business which was founded in 1780, and her title is an understatement.

Rosa participated in a panel discussion at the Beyond Extra Virgin conference last year and impressed me with her insights and passion for what she does.  As a retailer of kitchen equipment and entertaining accessories — often “considered” or one-time  purchases — my experience has been to merchandise food as fun, food as fashion, and food as an affordable indulgence.  Rosa has captured that notion with her striking First Day of Harvest offering.  The Italians have Olio Novello, but Rosa takes it a step further.  This is not just new oil — it is a special run of the first day of harvest only, and it is packaged in a very stylish red bottle with a label that changes every year.

Marketing Material for First Day Picual, 2008 Harvest

First Day Picual, 2009 Harvest

If the compelling packaging weren’t enough, the copy seals the deal:  First Day of Harvest Captures Early ‘Emerald Juice’.  Wow. This rare early harvest extra virgin olive oil delivers intense flavours and an accentuated fragrance to the senses and captures the unique occasion when the first olives of the new season are collected, milled and the resulting oil is experienced for the first time. But wait, there’s more:  The oil is of a golden green colour and its fragrance combines that of artichokes, mint, basil and rosemary.  Its bold taste coats the palate with flavours that continue the herb theme plus hints of citrus fruit and green tomatoes with a peppery finish. Okay.  Seriously.  Yum.

Olive juice is a very compelling idea, isn’t it?  Olives are a fruit, and the freshly pressed juice is full of micronutrients, antioxidant-laden polyphenols, and one of the healthiest and tastiest fats you can consume.  You can appreciate the difference between orange juice that has been heated and refined and made shelf stable versus something that is freshly squeezed at the height of citrus season, right?  Well, it’s the same with good extra virgin olive oil — it is a fresh juice, without defects.  Since I’ve already referenced Richard Gawel in the hypertext above on healthy fat, let me do so again in this iconoclastic post:  “What is better than average extra virgin olive oil?  Forget the official line.”  I think you will find it stimulating reading!

Castillo de Canena produces a First Day of Harvest edition for their Arbequina olives also, and both the picual and the arbequina have very impressive FFA numbers between 0.12 and 0.15, which as you know from reading about EVOO, is very very good.  In addition to the First Day of Harvest and the regular Reserve lines, Rosa has also come up with a compelling oil from some Royal olives (aka Rojal as we read about from Cavaloca in last week’s post), which are unique in and of themselves, but appear all the more appealing with this positioning:

XXI Century Oils - Early Royal

The ‘Royal’ varietal is an ancient variety native to Jaén, Andalucía.  Its crop has suffered a strong decline since the end of the 19th century and was on the brink of extinction due to the difficulties in harvesting and its low yield leading many to abandon it.  Only a few Royal oils were harvested, all of which were exclusively reserved as soon as the olives ripened.  We have rescued the Royal from a small enclave in the mountains and have planted them in our estate, taking every care of the Royal olive trees and we are now able to present our new oil.

As you can see on the label, the fruit is harvested early, meaning while still green, and the tasting notes describe the experience as “fresh grass, banana, and artichoke”.   The concept with this packaging is to establish a new way of thinking about olive juice.  An ancient olive varietal, saved from extinction, then harvested early and packaged in this severe bottle.  Utterly modern and riveting.

Have you been wowed enough?  I thought I had been.  I thought I knew what to expect when I sat across from Rosa in Barcelona.  We chatted and caught up about people and olives and travel, and we talked about Castillo de Canena.  The dull industrial light and jangled buzz of a busy trade show around us transformed when she revealed her next brilliant marketing move to me.  The lights focused and sound fell away when I beheld this:

21st Century Oils. Second. Horizontal Tasting. October, November, December.

As you might have reckoned for yourself when you read about the Royal olives being harvested early — when you pick the fruit can make a difference in how an oil tastes, too.  There are many factors that coalesce to make an EVOO, but with this collection, Rosa recounts this thinking: “…(all) Arbequina, from the same olive trees on our estate, with the same way of harvesting the olives, in three consecutive months, October, November and December brand new experiences are born.  The result is three oils with totally different colours, aromas and taste.  A sensory trip through time, from green and fruity olive oil suitable for starters; through golden and sweet oil excellent for fish and meat, and finally the sweetest and ripened fruits producing olive oil ideal for desserts.

The concepts of a first run of oil, of cultivating different varieties, or harvesting them at different times is not new, however the approach to conveying this to the consumer is engaging, evocative and accessible.  Remember what they teach you in public speaking?  “Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em; tell ’em, then tell ’em what you told ’em”.

Dear Rosa, thanks for telling us about your oils.  They’re amazing, and so are you.


Francisco, Rosa y Luis Vañó de Castillo de Canena

Castillo de Canena EVOOs are cultivated and milled in the Guadalquivir valley in the province of Jaén, one of the world’s leading regions for producing extra virgin olive oil, in the heart of Andalusía.  Fortunately for us, they are available on line and from fine grocers everywhere.

The next Tagami essay: Olivaria – Spanish Olive Oil, part 3.  So many olives, so little time!

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Al Hamman permalink
    May 15, 2010 4:33 AM

    Okay, this post settles it. You are an excellent writer! Great journal. Wonderful description. Next stop? It’s time t write a book. SN

  2. hydravainuiny permalink
    May 16, 2010 12:47 AM

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!



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