My Trip to Spain
This was a trip of a lifetime for me. For 12 years, I’ve wanted to go to Spain and meet Antonio Rey Solé and see his Oliflix olive oil operation. So, I planned my trip for the first two weeks of December -- to coincide with the olive harvest, which occurs annually between November and March depending on weather and olive variety. As I spread the news of my upcoming trip, two close friends of mine, Ajna and Rahman, decided to make arrangements and meet me there.
The main reason I went is because I wanted to understand more about the origins of Oliflix. It is very important for me to -- not just to know the information but also to experience it first-hand, in all its fullness. Including the oil processing and the orchards and the man himself, the force behind the whole operation. To quote from the movie The Matrix: “There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” In the end, I was more seriously impressed than I had expected.
When I arrived, I had a bit of trouble with the language since I do not speak Spanish but I was just so happy to have finally made it there. Lucky for me, Ajna is bi-lingual and ended up serving as our primary translator throughout the trip. What a godsend. I’m not sure I could have managed without her. Rahman would meet us a few days later and ended up taking high-resolution pictures for our website and promotional materials.
One of the first things we did was rent a car and drive a little over 100 miles, from Barcelona to the small town of Flix, which is located in the province of Tarragona in the southern region of Catalonia, Spain. When we arrived, we saw signs all over town that said Oliflix. I was overjoyed to see this. It was obvious that Oliflix’s presence had really impacted the town. Flix was so much smaller than I had imagined in my mind, with an estimated population of less that 4,000 people.
Unfortunately, Antonio was busy at the larger mill in Mequinenza so we had to wait another day to see him and we decided to tour the Oliflix working museum. When I opened the doors, I began to understand how the entire process of making oil was done. I was curiously relieved to finally be at the place I had long dreamed about visiting.
The next day we went to the Flix Oliflix working museum. When I opened the doors, I began to see how the entire process of making oil was done. Being there I felt a degree of relief. Finally, I was at the place I had dreamed about going. It was long time coming. Unfortunately, Antonio was at the other mill in Mequinenza when we arrived in Flix, so we had to wait until the next day to see him.
The next day, we drove from Flix about 23 miles northwest to Mequinenza. Between the towns was beautiful countryside with rolling hills and orchards everywhere – it was all agricultural and rural and you could see for miles, almost like you were out in the middle of nowhere just surrounded by nature. It was spectacular, no smog and clear skies. What a relief from Los Angeles.
Crossing the river into Mequinenza, a town about half the size of Flix, I was transfixed by the Castle on the hill overlooking everything. It was even more prominent from Antonio’s mill warehouse. We finally got to meet Antonio Rey Solé, the owner of Oliflix. We took a tour of his operation, a facility he designed specifically for olive oil extraction and I was amazed at what he had built.
One of the first things Antonio did when we arrived was give us a fresh half-gallon of unfiltered extra virgin olive oil. The oil was pressed just a couple weeks before we arrived. The unfiltered sediment will actually age the oil prematurely but since we intended to consume it before we left, age was not an issue. We used it every day and enjoyed it to the last drop. It was such a treat to have truly fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oil.
Antonio is such a sweet man and he knows almost everyone in town -- I instantly fell in love with him. The previous night, Ajna and I had some issues with our Airbnb accommodations outside of Flix but when Antonio heard of our plight he insisted on paying for our hotel accommodations in Mequinenza and also treated us to a fabulous authentic paella lunch with local wine and, of course, local Oliflix olive oil. He was such a generous host.
Learning about Antonio’s history was fascinating. At age 5 he visited the family orchard and picked olives for the first time. He became so enamored that, at age 10, he consciously embarked on an olive growing apprenticeship. He learned how to care for the trees and promote the trees natural defenses by encouraging the earthworms and wild animals that contribute to a balanced ecosystem. He learned that bruising the olive fruit with rakes or machinery would produce an inferior oil. But his family did not extract their own olive oil; they sold their olives to local producers.
So as a teenager, Antonio decided to learn about the other half of the process and studied with a number of olive oil producers to learn various methods of extracting the olive oil. Over time, with experimentation, he concluded that extracting the olive oil using traditional techniques rather than modern machinery produced a better tasting extra virgin olive oil.
So when he could afford it, instead of purchasing modern stainless steel, water-cooled, self-contained, centrifugal separating, automated equipment, Antonio chose instead to buy an antique olive mill with granite stone wheels, hydraulic presses, gravity separation baths and underground ceramic storage tanks.
Over the years he learned that the unripe green olives were higher in polyphenol content but more bitter and peppery whereas the darker riper olives created oil that was smoother tasting but had a shorter shelf-life and less nutrition. He began experimenting with different types of olives and different blends. Antonio eventually decided that blending Arbequina and Empletre olives, both green and ripe, would retain the best of both attributes.
And when he built his new operation he changed the design of his granite stone mills to a unique conical shape so that the initial crush is lighter and gets heavier as the paste oozes to the perimeter, tearing the olive skins less and contributing to a less bitter taste.
What was astonishing was that he not only knew how to make great olive oil but he also understood the mechanisms and machinery necessary to press the olives and make it into oil. I couldn’t believe that he designed some of the equipment himself.
The next day, Antonio drove us back to Flix to visit the antique mill and then to the outskirts of Flix to visit his orchards. The people who work for him were very engaging with great personalities. I was mesmerized thinking about how I had used his olive oil for so many years and yet, had not seen the entire process. Seeing how he produced the olive oil was a real surprise.
The olives are picked daily and delivered to the mill where they are cleaned of miscellaneous leaves and stems before weighing. Conveyor belts transport the olive to the granite stone mills where the olives are crushed into paste. The paste is further mixed in a process that releases the oil called malaxing before being spread onto round woven hemp mats and stacked several feet tall. The stacks are maneuvered to giant hydraulic presses that slowly squeeze out the oils and juices which are collected in a trough and pumped to gravity separation tanks. The oil floats on top of the water and juices and is siphoned from the top in several stages before paper filtration. The refined oil is then pumped to giant underground ceramic tanks where the sediment can settle, a process known as racking. Eventually the oil is pumped from the top and into stainless steel tanks that are purged from the bottom before samples are tested and bottling takes place. I don’t know of anyone who racks and purges their oil. Most people do one or the other, not both. Sediment will spoil the oil quicker. After seeing how the mill worked, I couldn’t wait to visit the orchards.Nestled next to a wildlife sanctuary, the Oliflix orchards are a sight to behold. The trees are much larger and more spread out than is typical of modern orchards. His orchards date back to Roman times and some of his trees are over 800 years old, but the majority are a couple hundred years old with some new ones scattered about. Antonio shared a story about a man who offered to buy one of his ancient olive trees for a serious amount of money, but he refused to sell. To Antonio, it would be like selling one of his children; his trees are priceless. He really cares about his trees and his land.
For me, the most surprising aspect about the orchard was how many earthworm castings there were covering every square meter of his land. At first I wondered what it was, doting the ground. Then I realized it was earthworm castings, everywhere I looked. I couldn’t believe it. I asked Antonio and he confirmed the fact.
That’s real confirmation of the health of the trees. In my life, I have never seen so many earthworm castings covering every square foot of soil. The volume of the piles was amazing. They looked like dome-shaped ant hills made of rice, like coconut macaroons. Some piles were much larger than others. Antonio said the variations were due to the size of the earthworms. Those earthworms must have been huge. I was shocked, flabbergasted. You literally could not avoid stepping on the castings when you walked across the property; there were that many.
The earthworms help improve the soil and increase the nutrients the trees receive. Castings also aid the moisture retention of the soil and delivery to the plants as well as curbing root diseases and inhibiting insect pests.
Antonio told me that he, and his family for generations before him, had never used a pesticide, herbicide, chemical fertilizer or even tainted water. In fact, he doesn’t ever water his orchard. Instead he allows the naturals stresses of rain and drought, do it for him, making the trees even more resilient and vital.
Had he been using pesticides or herbicides, the earthworms would have never survived in such numbers and sizes. Impossible -- and the trees would not be nearly as healthy as his were. I am convinced that his orchard has the cleanest soil and healthiest trees I have ever come across. He is way more organic than I had imagined.
This extreme caring and attention to detail is what separates Antonio from other olive oil producers. And maybe now you can see why Oliflix is a truly unique and refined, highly nutritious and delicious tasting, extra virgin olive oil.
I’m grateful that I went and I was astonished by what I saw. Antonio is in love with nature and is making something so special. He really loves what he produces. It was beyond my expectations. The way the oil is made and how Antonio cares for his orchard. What I saw was much better than I could ever have anticipated.
Antonio’s operation is uncompromising in standards & ethics, which is what I was always hoping for. Now I know, without a doubt, that I can trust the olive oil we sell as being one of the highest quality oils available in the world today, and a product I am proud to represent. I feel blessed and lucky that we can carry such a superior extra virgin olive oil. I hope someday I can go back again -- it impacted me that much.
If you are curious, you might want to give the olive oil a try. Also if you are interested in visiting his farm in Spain, Antonio would be happy to receive you with open arms.
Good Health to you,