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Interview with Francisco Cortijo, director of Almaceite

Interview with Francisco Cortijo, director of Almaceite

At Verde Esmeralda Olive we wanted to interview Francisco Cortijo, Director of the Almaceite portal and the AOVE-OLIVAR ESPAÑOL Yearbook. With a track record of more than 25 years writing about the virgin olive oil sector and the Spanish olive grove, Almaceite fully vindicates the use of the word oil, the meaning of which refers exclusively to olive oil. Likewise, the aim of the portal is to share and reflect on this wonderful world of the olive grove.

Stay with us and find out more about this special portal!

Interview Francisco Cortijo

What is the purpose of "Almaceite?

Our portal was born in May 2016, although those of us who are part of it have been writing about the world of virgin olive oil and the Spanish olive grove for more than 25 years. Our aim is to offer both the sector and consumers differentiated, more personal information, analysis and trends on topics that may be of interest to advance and improve our knowledge of this product, which is unique in world gastronomy. We have always given a voice to the major players in the sector, who are the producers, the EVOO brands, the cooperatives and the olive oil mills. At the same time, as a complement, we publish in paper format the ANNUARIO AOVE-OLIVAR ESPAÑOL, which has just published its fifth edition where we have analysed the evolution of the Spanish consumer market over the last 20 years and also the potential of the United States market with great experts from there.


What projects does "Almaceite" have?

Our great project is to continue to provide daily analyses, trends and interviews on the olive oil sector, with new protagonists, who provide different and complementary views that help to win customers and better understand the challenges, problems and potential of our sector. To give as objective a view as possible and, above all, with complementary voices that contribute ideas. The reality of the traditional mountain olive grove has little to do with that of the super-intensive olive grove or that of a small cooperative with that of a large packaging company. We like to listen and learn from everyone. With humility. Without exclusions. I am an olive grower and every year I harvest the family olive grove. That brings a different vision.


We know that you award an EVOO every month, how long have you been doing it? What has changed since you started doing it?

Almost from the beginning of In 2016 it was clear to us that it was important to highlight the work that many EVOO brands were doing, whether or not they had their own mill, in the production of high quality extra virgin olive oils, differentiated, with meticulous work throughout the year in the field, in harvesting and preservation, in labelling and packaging, in the protection of native varieties in some cases. This is the origin of the PREMIUM EVOO OF THE MONTH section, which is one of the most appreciated by readers and where numerous mills and brands from more than a dozen autonomous communities throughout the Spanish olive groves have already been present.


What do you value when awarding an oil?

Many issues. Above all, their total respect for the product. That is, their way of working and caring for the olives in the field, the quality and uniqueness of their product, whether it is a single-varietal or a blendIts presentation, its identity with an olive-growing territory or region, its capacity for innovation... The people, with names and surnames, who have made it possible with their work and knowledge. Everything matters when it comes to achieving an EVOO with a defined personality.


What does a good oil have to have?

For me, it is no longer enough just to comply with the legislation in force, the grades and the characteristics that define it. There are many extra virgin olive oils on the market that are extra virgin olive oils because they comply with the regulations but they don't say anything to me, they don't give me any sensations and they don't have any singularities whatsoever. They are flat, robotic. You can say that they are extra virgin olive oils because they are, but that's all. They hardly differ from a virgin or an intense olive oil. A good EVOO is something else. When consumed fried, in a stew, grilled and, above all, raw, it must transmit to the customer an emotion, a call for attention, a memory, a sensation that goes beyond taste. And to do so, it must be very strict from the care of the olive in the field to its final conservation when the customer buys it in a bottle on the shelf. It is a long journey in which any mistake can mean that it is no longer a good oil.


Is there more social awareness of what it means to be an Extra Virgin?

Yes and no. It is a fact that the knowledge and consumption of extra virgin olive oil has increased significantly. In the analysis we published in the ANNUARIO AOVE-OLIVAR ESPAÑOL 2021 in mid-June, we can see that consumption has tripled in the last 10 years in Spain. It is true that the supply of extra virgin olive oil is much greater today than it was two decades ago, both by large cooperatives and bottling groups and by hundreds of olive oil mills and brands such as Verde Esmeralda Olive, which has raised the quality of the category.

But being optimistic, we must also be realistic. And reality tells us that according to data from ANIERAC, the association that brings together the oil bottlers with the highest sales volume, the sum of extra virgin and virgin olive oils accounts for less than 50% of the total olive oil category. In other words, even more refined olive oils than virgin and extra virgin are sold on supermarket and hypermarket shelves. And even more. If we analyse the global sales of vegetable oils, which amounted to some 664 million litres in Spain last year, only 22% of this amount - around 164 million litres - was virgin or extra virgin olive oil. Just as we repeat that there is still a long future for olive oil at world level because it only accounts for 3% of the vegetable oil market, the same should be said of Spain. We cannot be satisfied with the current prominence of extra virgin olive oil. It has grown a lot but it is still limited for the quality of the product. Growing on the basis of offers does not cement a market or create loyal consumers.


Do Spanish customers value oil or do they value it more abroad?

The figures I mentioned earlier are clear. And exports, which each year exceed those of the previous year, clearly show how Spanish extra virgin olive oil, whether conventional or organic, is more highly valued, and in some cases incomprehensibly better known, outside our borders than in Spain. A separate case would be that of the hotel and catering industry, where, with some exceptions, it is very difficult to find bars or restaurants that take care of the product and, above all, opt for EVOO from their own olive-growing area. They buy at the price of the white brand of their Cash & Carry or whatever their drinks distributor brings them. It is true that the EVOO brands themselves should do more work in their areas of influence and insist more on tastings, training, etc. It is a job for ants. A convinced consumer is a won customer.


How could knowledge about EVOO be increased?

The consumer of olive oil has been a consumer of olive oil since childhood at home. If you have seen your mother (or father) since you were a child, who used olive oil to prepare purées, stews, fried foods, etc., and you have smelt and tasted its smell and flavour, it would be difficult to separate yourself from the product for the rest of your life. The problem comes with the change in recent years in the typology of households, in the very model of work, in the ways of eating. Every processed and fast food - and we are not even talking about "junk food" - every "food delivery" to home or work is one less option for extra virgin olive oil. Unfortunately, and it is very sad to admit it, a great work on the advantages of the consumption of extra virgin olive oil in the Mediterranean Diet, such as the one carried out by great experts like the PREDIMED study, has less weight and impact on public opinion than what several undocumented Instagramers or Youtubers say about food. It is unfortunate but it is the harsh reality of consumption.

I think we need to insist more on its consumption and use - let's not forget cosmetics, which are very attractive to young people - in an imaginative way. We should not only insist on the concept of health, which is a very important commercial lever, but which sometimes makes us forget the idea of enjoyment, of pleasure, which we should associate with the world of olive oil. EVOO is not a medicine. It is a very healthy and pleasurable food. We need to be more hedonistic in our sales message. And above all, be more forceful and clear in denouncing absurd and unfounded messages about other vegetable fats on social networks.


In terms of varieties, is more value placed on organic?

The most mature international markets, from Central Europe and Scandinavia to the United States and Japan, are setting the trend in the consumer market. And in these markets, organic EVOO is growing more than conventional EVOO. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) itself, which is being approved, clearly shows that agriculture will be greener and more ecological in the coming years. However, this must be done on the basis of conviction and not on the basis of obligation or aid. There are already more than 1,050 olive oil mills in Spain certified organic. There must be a reason for this.


Finally, if you had to choose one variety, what would it be?

I have tasted many EVOOs in recent years, from very different territories and olive-growing realities, and of very different varieties. I do not consider some to be better than others. Some may have a higher polyphenol content or you may like them more for their intensity or even their colour. Moreover, and this is a good thing, each campaign is a world that produces different EVOOs from the same brand.

If I had to choose one, I would choose one of the autochthonous varieties, some of which are in the minority and need to be cared for and supported. A "Castellana" from La Alcarria, a "Zorzal" from Arribes del Duero; a Matihuela from Jaén, a Morisca from Los Santos de Maimona or a Royal of Sierra de Cazorla that you take so much care of in Verde Esmeralda Olive. The important thing is to consume EVOO. And if it is of high quality, so much the better. The surname is circumstantial.

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