Not too long ago, we drove three-and-a-half hours from Moira de Rubellos, a small town in the interior of Spain, to reach the region of Senia which is just a few kilometers from the Mediterranean coast. Along the way, we passed the outskirts of the city of Valencia and drove by the sea until we were only 90 minutes from Barcelona. All this driving, just to visit a grove of olive trees.
This arduous itinerary took me so out of my way in a country abundant with olive trees everywhere. However, the olive trees I visited were among the most special in the world. So they merited the marathon drive. They were well over 1000 years old and they were still providing olive oil in limited quantities. These mostly go to chefs and food aficionados who relish the thought of cooking with and tasting olive oil from some of the oldest trees on earth.
TALES OF REDEMPTION
Amador Peset, the man responsible for saving these trees from extinction and caring for them, was patiently waiting for me by the side of a quiet country road. Together we tramped through bushes and fields to see his babies. These olive trees were sturdy and majestic on flat land but all gnarled up in every direction. They were pure drama, each with a riveting story it seemed. However, the most interesting story was actually Amador’s own tale of transformation from carpenter to protector of a world heritage.
“I lost my job during the financial crisis,” he explained, referring to 2008. “And for awhile I didn’t look for another. Then one day I saw these trees and I thought something must be done to keep them alive. They were practically withering away because no one was looking after them.”
LESSONS IN PATIENCE
How does one decide to suddenly take care of trees? I wondered aloud.
“It wasn’t easy at all,” he replied. “First I had to find the owners of the land on which the trees stood and there were different owners for each one. Then I had to convince them to allow me to look after their trees. Some refused. But once an owner said yes, I began cleaning the tree carefully and slowly so it would revive. This took quite a long time.”
He continued: “But finally the trees were rehabilitated and they began to bear olives. This was when I started producing olive oil.”
In Spain, the finest artisanal products are basically labors of love and pride. Amador is no exception. He is a one-man operation in a fairly large warehouse. For the past years, he has been taking care of these ancient olive trees of Spain. He picks the olives in the day. Then he works by himself at night to press the olives for oil and bottle these. He does everything including the labels and the stamping.
It seemed to me a thankless job but he didn’t think so. “These trees would have died without care,” he said. “I’m happy to be protecting a part of Spain’s heritage.”
Then he opened a cabinet stacked with all kinds of beautiful bottles of olive oil. “It’s also a nice feeling to know that I am making oil from some of the oldest trees in the world,” he added, with a smile that actually already said it all.