Day 12 - Tuesday, April 4, 2017 - Olive Oil Production; Lunch with Locals; Visit Sinagoga del Agua
After a good night's sleep and another buffet breakfast we left the parador at 8:50. The air was brisk, only 40 degrees but the sun was warm.
Luis stopped at an overlook for an opportunity to gaze out over the rolling sea of olive trees. For miles and miles all we could see were the groves of the olive plantations.
Today's agenda was the unique OAT feature called "Day in the Life" dedicated to personal encounters with a family or community, in this case olive production. We drove only a short distance to Baeza to meet Anna.
Anna was an elegant woman in her 70’s who came to the region 50 years ago. Married to Pepé, they own the Oleícola San Francisco Olive Production, a family-run business of olive plantations, harvesting, and distribution.
We walked through the small town and Anna told us of life when she was a young mother coming from a big city in Spain. Life was not easy for this “New Age” free spirited woman. Anna told us, “A woman could not move her feet in those days with out permission from her husband.”
Rikardo bought us a cup of coffee or hot chocolate in a small café as we watched the local people going about their busy day. The town was preparing for the Semana Santa celebrations and posters all over the community advertised the events to take place during Holy Week.
We continued our walk to see beautiful palaces, now homes and apartments that displayed the past wealth of the town. Luis met us with the bus and we went to the Olive Factory to pick up another Luis, our guide for the day.
After driving for a few more miles, we passed through the town of Begijar, a typical company town with no tourists and all of the residents are employed in the olive oil production industry.
Luis pointed out the area of surrounding olive plantations and told us the San Francisco Company had over 10,000 trees on their property. Theirs was a small enterprise but the specialize in quality vs. quantity. The whole valley and surrounding hillsides have over 66 million trees producing a great percentage of the world’s olive oil.
Out in the fields of trees, Luis mentioned that their trees are more than 500 years old and the harvesting was done by shaking the trees with long stick and with nets underneath to prevent the olive fruit from hitting the ground.
Over 100,000 migrant people are brought to the area to pick the olives. The wages are 60€ per day and workers spend about 20 minutes per tree. The variety of olives they have on their plantation was Picual, and they are slowly converting their production to all organic products.
Luis reminded us that they keep accurate records of the olive oil production and their website advertises “The product is 100% natural, 100% pure, and is identified and traced from field to fork.”
Many farms have modernized now using tractors that shake the trees with umbrella like nets that automatically gather the fruit. These companies spend only 6 minutes per tree and are focused on quantity and labor saving techniques.
From the fields we went back into the village of Begijar to the factory where we saw the process of grinding and pressing the olives. The factory was quiet as the harvest season was in September through November.
In the tasting room we not only got to sample the three types of Essential Olive extra virgin oil but we also had a cooking lesson in using the oil. We started by making the sangria, a Spanish tradition in itself.
Next we learned how to make seasoned tomatoes with oregano, salt, and extra virgin olive oil. The last of our appetizers was seasoned cheese made with Manchego cheese, honey, olive oil and brushed with a twig of rosemary for a light seasoning.
We joined Anna and Pepé for a scrumptious lunch served by their son and granddaughter, also members of the family business. There was time to shop in their gift shop and many chose to buy products from their exclusive line.
At 4:00 we returned to Úbeda and Rikardo gave us until 6:15 to go to our rooms to rest up or in our case to catch up on the amazing amount of information we learned at the San Francisco Factory.
We met again in the lobby of our palace to meet Andreá, the Director of the “Sinagoga del Agua” and the Jewish Museum. As we walked to the synagogue, he told us even more about Úbeda as a UNESCO site.
During the Inquisition, Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism, be exiled from Spain, or killed. The Jews who left were forced to leave everything behind. Úbeda is now considered to have the largest number of recovered medieval Jewish homes and synagogues in Europe.
Accidentally found in an excavation and reconstruction for an apartment complex, this synagogue and museum only opened in 2010. A mikveh, or purification bath was discovered along with a cellar with the original vats for wine storage. After two hours of a fascinating Learning and Discovery, we thanked Andreá and had the rest of the evening on our own.
We walked back to the parador but again tonight after eating such a hearty lunch at San Francisco we elected skip another meal. Today was another full day and we travel to Madrid by way of Toledo tomorrow.
More information about olive oil:
When you think of olive oil, you probably think of Italy. In reality, Spain produces 50% of all olive oil in the world. It also accounts for 20% of the world’s olive oil consumption (Italy comes in first with 30%). The average Spaniard consumes nearly 14 liters of olive oil each year.
Accommodations: Parador de Úbeda Hotel - - - Meal: B & L
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Do you carry a recorded,or the latest tech, to remember so much? Knowledge is unbelievable, all so interesting.
I'm putting an extra olive in my Martini tonight...
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Thanks for the info on the synagogue and picture. Some of those Jews who were forced to convert came to the New World and remained hidden for generations. They had customs that they did not know the origin of, like lighting candles on Friday or not eating pork.