Extra Virgin


No sooner had the frenzy of chorizo and sausage making finally ground to a halt and the last rings of La Matanza’s prized morcilla been hung out to dry, than it was time for the start of olive harvest. It was now early December and the pace of our sleepy village suddenly moved up a couple of gears. All round the pueblo, rooms were being prepared for the flood of seasonal migrant Moroccans who’d arrived to join the local workforce. Some came with their wives and families but for most of the men, their three-month spell in the olive groves of Andalucia would be spent away from family.



At first light each morning they would gather outside the bar, drink their fill of strong, sweet black coffee, and chain smoke cigarettes before setting off to work in the groves. With the olive harvest now in full swing the stillness of the valley was broken by the constant whirr and buzz of machinery and the sound of tractors and trailers as they rumbled down rough farm tracks and through the village to the olive mill.


Before I moved to Spain I have to admit to never having given much thought to olive oil. It’s something that I’ve always used in cooking, dressed up salads with and on rare occasions made mayonnaise with but until I lived here in the village, I’d never really considered just what it takes to produce olive oil. It is hard to escape olives here; they are everywhere, as far as the eye can see and for hundreds of miles beyond. This part of Andalucía is not just the largest olive growing region in Spain; it is the largest olive growing region on Earth. The olive is so woven in to the fabric of daily life here that it would be hard to ignore it; even the village school is called El Olivo.



I knew that the harvest was hard work, not from any physical exertion thus far on my part, but I’d been in the bar enough times at the end of the day to witness the workers coming in exhausted, straight from the groves. Their hair matted with sweat, boots and clothes caked with mud, aching limbs scratched to shreds from the trees; it was a wonder they even had the energy to even raise a glass of beer to their lips. And so in my madness one evening I volunteered myself for a stint in the groves. The words ‘I’ll help’ had hardly slipped out and already I was regretting my largesse.




But when the day dawned for my turn to help out in the groves, I had a cunning plan up my sleeve. I’d use my bad back as an excuse to wriggle out of a full days work. Surely a morning of hard labour would be enough to show willing? I was doing this for love after all. I penciled down some useful words like ‘about to die’ ‘phone an ambulance’ ‘I beg you, let me go home’ and stuffed them in my pocket to use later when the going got too hard.

Antonia and Paco were hard taskmasters. We started at 9.30am worked solidly for 2 hours and then had a short break. Already at this point that I was beginning to seize up, I felt in my pocket for my piece of paper and list of excuses. No sooner had I found it than I was being given my marching orders to drag the nets over to the next row of trees. Damn, damn, damn, I’d have to now wait till lunchtime for my escape. We worked for another 2 hours, dragging the increasingly heavy nets full of olives slowly row by row as the trees where shaken and beaten with sticks. It was a cold day, overcast at times and the previous weeks rain had made the ground hard to walk on, mud stuck to everything and it was like wading through treacle getting around between the trees. At last it was lunchtime and everything stopped for an hour. Rugs where put out on the grass, bottles of sherry, wine and cans of beer opened, and a feast laid out including bread, and all sorts of cuts of pork, chorizo, salchichon made after the matanza.



‘Is everything ok, Lottie?’ ‘Are you tired yet?’ This was the moment that I’d been waiting for; I pulled my the crumpled piece of paper out of my pocket with the list of excuses and read them out in my finest Spanish. There was a roar of laughter followed by a hard slap on the back from Paco ‘No way are you chickening out and going home’ and he poured me another glass of sherry. ‘We’ve got lots more work to be done, we need you here, not at home!’ I could have wept, my escape plan had failed abysmally and now I was stuck. Antonia took pity on me, she could see that my back really was giving me grief and suggested that I go off with Paco with the first trailer load of olives to the mill.


Driving through the country lanes with Paco and the trailer load of olives I wondered how all my neighbours had the energy to do this day in and day out for 3 months every year. The only respite they got was when it rained and the sodden land made it impossible to work. And the trouble with the wind and rain is that not only can it stop work for days, but it makes more work with all the windfalls that have to be then blown and swept in to piles afterwards and cannot be sold for as much money.


The mill that Paco sends his olives to is close to Montefrio. It is enormous and very modern. We emptied the trailer’s load on to the weigh-bridge and then watched as the olives made their way up a huge conveyor belt and in to the washers. A tiny sample of the olives was then collected by the owner of the mill who then sends them off to a laboratory to be analyzed for oil content, the better the quality of olive, the higher the value. Paco was then given a print out of the weight, time and date of delivery. 3,500 kilos was the amount that we had picked and gathered before lunch, not bad for a mornings work.


By the time we’d finished at the olive mill and driven back to the others still hard at it in the groves there was just an hour and a half left of the working day. I kept working but it was at snail’s pace and I found it physically easier to get down on my hands and knees and crawl round the tree gathering up any spare olives than to bend down to pick them up. I must have looked quite a sight but I was beyond caring, at least I’d managed to do the full day. Now I was just counting down the minutes till I could open the wine and take a handful of codeine.

You might have noticed that Irishman has not yet had a mention in this post. He cleverly made some feeble excuse early on about not being able to help out – the rat. But such is the luck of the Irish because a month later when finally, after the last of the olives had been picked and the harvest was done for another year, Antonia invited both of us to join in with the end of harvest celebrations. It was a warm, sunny Sunday in early March and we had been bidden for 1pm. Out side the bar, a fire had been lit to roast lamb, pork and beef on. Inside the bar a long table had been set, around 25 places in all. The women were working setting out plates and baskets of bread and the men, well the men did what they do best, sat and talked and drank. Of course Irishman was not going to get off lightly for not helping out with the harvest, he was the butt of Paco’s jokes for at least an hour after we all sat down to eat but what a feast and what a happy occasion. Everyone that had helped out with the harvest was there, and we were treated to a great feast that went on until we were fit to burst.


And finally, some olive related factoids for you – you never know, they may come in handy in a pub quiz some day.

1. Spain is the largest exporter of olive oil in the world, 75% of which is grown in Andalucía making this area the largest olive growing region on earth.
2. It takes between 4/5 kgs of olives to make 1 litre of oil.
3. Each tree produces around 15-20 kgs of olives meaning that a farmer can expect to produce 4/5 litres of oil per tree.
4. Italy imports huge quantities of olive oil from Spain where it is then rebottled, packaged and sold as Italian olive oil!
5. Olive trees are pollinated by the wind; you need male and female trees for fruit to grow. One male to every 10 females. The trees here are planted as male/female pairs.
6. Olive trees need 5 years to grow before they can first be harvested. Some olive trees still bear fruit at over 1,000 years old.
7. Extra virgin olive oil can only be made from the olives picked from the trees. The windfalls are made in to inferior olive oil.

And now, after having spent my first winter here and seen the work that goes in to producing olive oil, I vow to never, complain about the price of olive oil ever again. Writing this post today in April, 8 weeks after the end of harvest, the work in the groves still doesn’t stop because for the past 6 weeks, farmers have been pruning their trees and cutting up logs to sell for the winter. Spring time is also when the groves are sprayed with insecticide.



58 thoughts on “Extra Virgin

  1. What I don’t understand is why, according to my book, Olive-tree Warbler does not occur in Paco’s back yard. I have seen them in Greece. What don’t they like about Andalucia? This is a wonderful post, Lottie (slightly overdue, may I say?) but I suspect your leisurely lifestyle has kept you away from your adoring fans. (Ducks and runs). I think it is very risky for a lady to right about her largesse. Spellcheckers may get it wrong. Just saying. We always go goggle eyed at the cost of olive oil. I think it has gone up about 30% in the last few years. But clearly still a bargain. Alas dinner calls or I could go on for ages yet. Welcome back, Empress Lottie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well thanking you most kindly, Sir. You made the Empress smile 😀

      Largesse, goodness I hope it doesn’t mean something else……I’d be mortified 😉 I need to get up to speed with the Spanish birds and by that of course I mean the feathered variety. I think last night I heard a nightingale but I may be very wrong. The Hoopoes are abundant, they start their call early each morning and carry on until night fall. Here’s a clip that I’ve just found

      http://vimeo.com/856613 – The hoopoes in the field by the house are now listening to this clip and calling back!

      Lots of finches here, Gold, Green, etc and the swallows have started making a nest by the kitchen – muy peligroso living in their flight path, any minute now something could land on my laptop.

      More adventures following soon.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lottie, you may well be hearing nightingales. No reason why not. they are quite catholic in their choice of habitat. Please do not put any in a baking dish 😦


    1. Thank you AV. My back has been shit for years, but I’m my own worst enemy as I don’t do anything about it apart from whinge! I suspect a good chiropractor could sort it out and regular back exercises. The olive oil here is so good, green in colour and packs a punch with flavour. It’s interesting that the excess gets sold off to Italy and they bottle it as their own! Apparently this practice has been going on for years.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Knowing what I know now, the answer would be buy Spanish olive oil. If you pick up an Italian brand of oil in the supermarket, especially a cheap one, you might very well be buying Spanish anyway from what I can gather. it is a real community here and everyone helps out, it’s a special place 😀


  2. I’m delighted to have you back. I thought for a minute you’d absconded again. All hat work must have put a real strain on the back so maybe now would be a good time to see the chiropractor, you never know you might be fit for the next harvest.
    Love the picture with the rabbit/hare, I’m guessing it wasn’t tame.
    xxx Massive Hugs Lottie xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahh, the little hare was just a wee babe that Paco found in the groves, caught it and gave to me. Clearly it needed to stay where it was and should never have been picked up 😦 I found a safe place for it later and can only pray that it was ok. My back gives me daily grief and I really need to get it sorted out – I’d love to be fit enough to work more days next harvest. It’s a good days work, ‘plein air’ and plenty of time for thinking! Massive Hugs to you, lovely David xxxxx


  3. I love you, Lottie. You have singlehandedly made my day with this post. I actually jumped and ran to my bedroom to be alone to read it. You know how that toddler gets when he sees me on my phone…

    And those photos!!! I felt like I was there.

    And those Facts! I vow to never again complain about the price and always be suspicious of EVOO from Italy.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. PHEW!!!! I’ve done my bit for Spanish Olive Oil! I may be knackered, I may be crippled after only one day but I’ve done it…..sod off Italy, Buy Spanish! BTW, I love you too ❤


  4. Yea! On the day I ask about your blogs you post again. A what a great post too – everything I didn’t know about olives and more. I LOVE using olive oil though, so much nicer than any other as far as I am concerned. Great pictures too and I love the idea of your little written down excuses….. 🙂


    1. Thank you, Wendy. I know that you’ve lived in Spain much longer than I have, have you been roped in to join the olive harvest? Pete already had his excuse but I didn’t, how have you fared?! xxx


  5. It sounded a bot like de oily cart great post and pics. So glad to hear your voice again. That Andrew is rude! But fun!
    Hope your back is better. Will check for Spanish oil next time.


  6. Ah, so that’s what’s been keeping you busy! Olive oil is confusing…virgin, extra virgin, cold pressed, stone ground, organic, living…help! But I love it and usually look for something between $7 and $15 a bottle. I strike a balance between my mother “you get what you pay for” and my father, “good enough’ll do”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I need to do more homework on olive oil as I find it quite bewildering. I’ve generally gone for whatever is cheapest or on offer. You can buy the local oil in some of the specialist shops in town or direct from the mills in huge drums. I pay about €2.50 for a litre in the supermarket which is about $3.56 or £2.00


  7. Thanks for the post. Very informative and although I had watched some documentaries about olive oil (and visited Andalucia a few years back) it was good to get a first-hand account. I agree with you. Good quality and well-worth the money

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Olga. It’s been quite an eye-opener living here and seeing the work involved with the olives. Although the harvest has finished the is still work going on with the pruning and tidying up. Spanish olive oil is dleicious!


  8. Dear Lottie, this post is just great. Loved every word. I’m so glad that you included the info about the olive oil. A great educational lesson for all your readers/followers.

    The little hare is too cute. I figured it was one that had been found in the groves.

    Do all the villagers own olive tree land and how do they determine where one property begins and the other one ends? Or, is the land owned by upper crust families and the villagers pay a percentage from the harvests?

    About the warblers. The trees are sprayed with insecticides so that probably accounts for maybe no warblers? Plus the number of warblers might be diminished due to eating poisoned insects. But I am curious to know if there are warblers in your area.

    I’ve used olive oil for cooking and for my skin for 50 plus years. I buy the store brand and of course that is inferior but I’m not particular about the taste. I’ve never questioned the price. It is something that is a must for me. I even add it to the dog’s food. Olive oil is good for our health- it helps to raise good cholesterol. My HDL has always been high and I attribute that to olive oil consumption.

    Marvelous post, Lottie, I really enjoy reading about the customs, people, and y’alls adventures.

    yvonne xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I’m so glad you enjoyed this post and although I admit to being quite ignorant about olive oil, I’ve always been a big fan of it too.

      Regarding the land, owners paint their boundary trees or put up some sort of marker to show where their land starts and ends. Any land here with olives on it is valuable, even if there are only a few trees. The price of olives goes up and down depending on the year but in general workers get paid 50 € a day which is not a lot considering the hours and the hard work involved. I miss the Moroccans in the village, they were a jolly bunch and good fun, some of them even spoke a little English.

      Colin is given olive oil too – An email will be on its way to you soon, he’s in the dog house again, he went to stay with a friend and caused absolute mayhem, wrecking havoc on her house and furniture ……xxxxx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yay! you like my boots! They are so comfy but take forever to do up and un-lace. I’ve got some really snazzy laces for high days and holidays, wide satin ones which I love but not so good when I’m out in the campo 😀


  9. This has been well worth the wait, Lottie. I’ve learned a lot about the harvest and olive oil thanks to you. I am impressed that you made it through the full day.
    Ten to one….I guess I just discovered what form I wish for my reincarnation……although the wind does seem to take the fun out of the act. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Just when I thought your Spanish adventure had come to an end up comes your post at the crack of dawn which has now reached 10am in this household.
    Your information on olive oil will result in thoughts of Lottie’s Spain whenever I dress the salmon or bake the spuds.
    Your story really calls for a movie and I can see male workers, large booted with sinewy wives dragging nets across. Huge baskets filled with olives on wide hips.
    In all that hard work, flirtatious and passionate glances being cast around forging love and lust encouraged by copious sherry and strong sweet coffee, spreading of rugs and blankets. 😉 Pealing laughter echoing through the hills.
    I can see it all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gerard, you’ve got it in one! If you’ve not read Laurie Lee’s ‘As I walked out one Midsummer Morning’ then I highly recommend that you do, and anything else by him that you can get your hands on – he’s a fabulous writer and his love of Spain, and the way he writes about it is perfection.
      More Spanish adventures on the way……..


  11. Awesome post Lottie, and I can only assume it took a bit of time to put together!! Photos are gorgeous and compliment your story so well. I am going to reconsider pricey “Italian” olive oil now and look for Andalucian, if such a label exists?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! check the back of the label Jody, that should tell you the oils source. But any oil from Spain will be good. On price, you generally get what you pay for and Extra Virgin is the most expensive but has a beautiful flavour. I use regular olive oil for cooking and Extra Virgin for cold dishes.


  12. Hi Lottie, I loved this story and the photography is beautiful as always. Backbreaking work indeed- I bet you felt it for the next day or two 🙂 I think this kind of convivial work effort and the type of rural life you describe keeps these people living to a ripe old age, I hope you catch some of that. In my book there at two types of people, those who prefer green olives and those that prefer black 🙂


    1. I think you are right about the hard work and lifestyle here. People seem to live to a ripe old age, men especially, I suspect the women having to work so hard, wears them out sooner! I love all olives, but green are my favourite as a snack and black are the ones that i use in cooking 😀 Thanks as always for your comments and thoughts, George – when are you coming to stay?? 😀


  13. In the past I liked green olives, all sorts, stuffed with peppers, anchovies even garlic but found black olives too intense… Now my taste buds must be lacking cos I prefer black olives, same goes for Brussels sprouts 🙂 Thanks for the invite Lottie, not sure when we can visit, Anna isn’t entitled to any more days off this year and although we are flying to Portugal in August, time won’t let us drive across. Also I’m working as an ‘art volunteer’ in the rehab by Angel so am not earning yet. When they do start to pay I’ll have to save for the art therapy course. I’ll continue this on the ‘Twelve Grapes’ post Lottie ——:)


    1. George, there is always going to be a berth here for you, you are welcome anytime.

      The Art Therapy course sounds great, when I told Pete what you are up to he said ‘Fantastic, George will make a brilliant art therapist’
      Being a volunteer is a great start but I understand that it must be tough not earning. Pete and I both need to find an income now so furiously making plans as to what to do. If you hear of any second hand printing presses, etching, silkscreen etc please let us know! Always good to read your comments, George. Thank you xxx


  14. Belated welcome to the village, Lottie!

    I’m glad you’re falling under the magic spell of the place, like we did.

    If you’d like to further your explorations into the mystery of extra virgin olive oil… how about a tour of the workings of the olive mill just outside the village? Francisco is so proud of his mill and loves showing people around – and the olive oil he sells is out of this world!


    1. Thank you, Jennifer.

      A visit to the mill would be wonderful, a treat in store. I don’t think I’ve sampled any of the local olive oil yet so it will be fun to try it. What you told me last night about the green oil was interesting – we need to find out more about that.

      Hope the dancing at the fiesta was fun? I’m still laughing about the handbags! The disco went on until 6am…….:D


      1. Yep… the dancing was great. I’m always totally gobsmacked by the “movers”… the men you usually see in blue overalls with muddy boots… morph into the most amazing dancers – either en mas or with their lady in their arms.

        I bailed out at 2am… enough for me!


      2. No wonder they always have a twinkle in their eye! I wish I’d stayed long enough to see it now. Next time I see a pair of muddy boots I’ll be wondering about those natty moves 😀


  15. Do you think you’ll be better prepared with an excuse before you’re asked again next season? Or has the physical discomfort faded with time? (They say that about childbirth too, though I imagine the experiences are a bit different 🙂 ). Can’t imagine doing it for three months. A long time ago when I still lived at home I did pumpkin picking during the school holidays. That was hard going too, but I was able to achieve my goal of buying the new Duran Duran album!

    Love the photos. x


    1. Oh Hayley, that made me smile, the pumpkins and the Duran Duran album, so sweet 🙂
      I’ll probably give it another go but my back really is a pest and I’ve had problems with it for years – boring stuff and very painful.
      It was the dragging of the heavy nets that was the problem. If I’d been able to go at a slower pace I probably could have achieved a lot more. Needless to say that I have huge admiration for everyone that works in the groves.


  16. Totally adored this piece, i’ve picked fruit around australia to fund my trips and you were spot on, even if it was only a day in the groves… as to Irishman getting flack at the party that was funny, i’m sure it was done in good humour, “another toast to my absence.” Thanks for sharing a part of the world i most certainly would love to visit and write about ! keep up the great posts!


    1. You are very kind, thank you. I’ve done fruit picking, potato harvest, pea picking but this definitely was the most hard work. Maybe if I was younger and fitter it wouldn’t have been such a challenge, who knows but I ached like buggery the next day! Irishman took the jibes in his stride, and it was all done in good humour. They tease us unmercifully but I take that as a good sign 😀
      I hope you get a chance to visit Spain. It’s a beautiful country and very welcoming people.


  17. That was fascinating. I never thought about how olives are harvested. But how back breaking. My back is a wreck, and I was cringing as soon as I saw the first net. I don’t know how you did it Lottie.
    Huge hugs. 😀


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