It is Monday and the weather seems to have turned for the better.
We spent most of the day outside. We scheduled a tour of the nearby city called Carmona that included a visit to an olive oil manufacturer in El Viso del Alcor.
When we are in Seville we use a tour company called Not Just a Tourist. They have arranged some good tours for us and this was no exception. Our guide, José Manuel Alberca met us at the door of our apartment building and walked us to where our car and driver, another José, was parked. You’ll remember we have mentioned the narrow streets in our neighborhood. José demonstrated his skills by getting us out of the warren of streets and on the way to El Viso with no problems.
We were so efficient getting out of town, in fact, that we had time to stop at a local café in El Viso for café con leche. We then went to a family-owned olive oil producer named Basilippo and met Isaac Martin. He took us on informative tour of the olive tree grove and the production facilities. The company employs about 25 people during harvest season (October through January) and they process the olives from about 200 trees a day.
Isaac emphasized the importance of getting the olives from the trees with as little damage as possible and getting them to the processing facility within hours, rather than days, to preserve their freshness. He told us how things can go wrong in the whole process and what kinds of threats the trees, olives, and oil face. He walked us through the steps one by one and showed us the equipment and how it worked. They bottle the oil by hand—as it is needed—because they feel that storing the oil in a large steel vat at a low temperature and with a layer of nitrogen to displace oxygen preserves the best qualities of their extra virgin oil.
As an example of my ignorance about the process, I will tell you that I assumed that you picked olives and put them in a press to “squeeze” out the oil. Sort of like grapes, no? No! The olives are pounded to make a paste and then the paste is gently stirred to separate the solids and liquids. The resulting mix is put into a large horizontal centrifuge and spun to separate the components. Then the result of that step is put into a vertical centrifuge and spun again to get the oil. That oil is then allowed to settle to make it ultra pure. All of the steps but the last, remember, must be done within hours of picking the fruit.
By now you are probably rolling your eyes and thinking “So what. It’s just olive oil. What difference could the process make?”
Isaac took us to a private tasting room that would measure up to the finest wine tasting room you have ever visited. As an aside, the large round table where we tasted had a long table cloth that reached to the ground and when we sat down, we lifted the cloth to put our legs under the table. Surprise! Under the table was a heater that kept us very comfortable. Isaac and José Manuel told us that is very common.
Now we reach the point of all the background. Isaac explained the really good olive oil will retain the aromas of the olive fruit will have a mix of a bitter and peppery taste. [Oh sure, wine snobs say the same kind of thing.] He poured three kinds of olive oil. The first one was a Basilippo early harvest. The second was a more commercial extra virgin oil made with a less demanding process. He had us swirl our glasses and warm them with our hands—almost like cognac snifters—and then inhale the aroma. I was so surprised to smell what Isaac had predicted: an aroma of fresh tomatoes and new grass. Some of the smell might have been influenced by what Isaac told us, but I don’t think so. Then he had us sip a little of the oil and swish it around in our mouths before swallowing a small amount. [I don’t think I would have imagined myself doing that in 100 years!] Sure enough. There were subtle tastes and a peppery aftertaste. Then we tried the other olive oil. No real aroma and no subtlety to the taste. Yesterday they would have been identical to me.
The third olive oil we tasted had been infused with oranges. Yup, it had an orange aroma and taste.
Isaac then served us bread drizzled with his olive oil and topped with jamón ibérico. Outstanding! Then, then he brought out some chocolate ice cream and sprinkled some salt on it and drizzled the orange-flavored oil on it. What a treat.
Our visit to Basilippo was great and Isaac was truly generous with his time and information.
We drove on to Carmona. The city has about 30,000 inhabitants with about 5,000 of them within the the old city walls. We spent most of our time in the Alcázar de la Puerta de Seville (more or less “The Fort at the Seville Gate”). This fort was already 5 centuries old when the Romans reinforced it. Before them, the Carthaginians occupied the fortification. When you get inside and climb to the top, you can see that the fortification offers an extensive view and that it would have been an integral part of the city’s defenses.
Of course the Moors, who conquered this part of Spain (and most of the other parts as well), occupied and extended/improved the fortification. On our visit, defense and protection were in the back of our minds. In one of the courtyards (Aljibes courtyard) there was a crowd/flock/scrum of young schoolchildren getting a history lesson and watching people dressed in medieval costumes.
We climbed to the top of the walls and up one of the towers to see expansive views of the city and the surrounding countryside. José pointed out many features of interest and I got some great pictures.
From the Alázar we went to a restaurant José recommended. He offered some suggestions about the menu and then Patricia and I ordered four tapas. We had Salmorejo, the famous cold tomato soup from Córdoba. It came with a small scoop of ice cream in the soup, rather than the cream we usually see. We had tuna, some specially prepared beef, and braised ox tail served with rice. More things I have never tried. But try them I did and I enjoyed all of them.
After lunch, we went to the highest point in the city to visit a luxurious parador (a hotel named Del Rey Don Pedro which used to be a alcázar ) to see more of the countryside and to hear more history.
We (Patricia) were unable to avoid a discussion of politics on the way back. We are always impressed with how interested and knowledgeable Europeans are in the situation in the United States. José is no exception.
We can’t convey how much we enjoyed the day. José, José, and Isaac all went beyond their roles as guides.
We are in for the night now. No music. We bought some bread (pan) and we have some jamón ibérico and some Amontillado sherry. We will have a nice, quiet evening.