Olives and their oil have been a staple ingredient in island life for centuries. Now the Mallorcan olive harvest is well underway. Bucking the European trend somewhat, it looks like it’s going to be a good one.
Although it’s up 9% on last year’s historical low, the European crop year 2023/24 will once again be below average. The price of olive oil, one of the symbols of Mediterranean life, will remain high, affecting consumption in Europe.
The climate crisis and conditions that favoured the olive fruit fly and other pest infections affected much of Spain this summer
In Jaén, Spain, the world’s largest olive oil-producing region, prices reached ‘€820 per 100 kilograms at the end of August, the highest value ever recorded and nearly three times higher than the average of the last five years.’ But, although prices have risen and consumption fallen, it seems the Mallorcan olive oil industry is in better shape than elsewhere.
Covering a recent visit by Balearic government officials to an oil mill in Felanitx in the south-east of the island, Economía de Mallorca reported that over 2.5 million kilos of olives have been harvested with more than 350,000 litres of oil receiving Mallorcan Designation of Origin status.
President of the Balearic Islands, Marga Prohens said of Mallorca’s olive oil industry, ‘We are facing a clear example, if not the best, of a living primary sector, which we want to accompany and support because it is key for our Islands.’
Joan Simonet, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Natural Environment added, ‘Purchasing Mallorca oil is an excellent opportunity for the consumer, since they consume a more sustainable product and at the same time helps in the fight against climate change.’
The Mallorcan olive oil industry is strong and expanding today. More producers are being awarded DO Aceit de Mallorca status. Son Moragues, on the edge of Valldemossa is one of the pioneers of this trend.
In front of Son Moragues is a field of intensely green grass. Behind it are the Tramuntana mountains. Following a practice begun by the Moors when they invaded Mallorca in the 10th century. Son Moragues’ olives are grown on ancient terraces in these mountains.
When Son Moragues was first created in 1231 it stretched all the way from Deià to Valldemossa. By the end of the 20th century, only 280 hectares remained.
Barbara Iten, Head of Experiences and Events at Son Moragues told me ‘Son Moragues is a restored historical olive grove. Many of its trees are 800 years old. The owner, who purchased the property in 2006, wanted to restore 100 hectares of the historic olive groves that pretty much cover the whole of the Tramuntana from Andratx upwards to what they were in the 13th to 17th centuries, the height of olive oil production in Mallorca.’
According to Barbara, the owner’s intention is ‘to show how our mountain can inspire us to create sources of income that are based on alternatives to tourism and property development.’
Like other Mallorcan olive oil producers, Son Moragues had a good olive harvest. But, while it’s up from those of the past two years, it’s still roughly half of previous harvests – around 9,000 litres when it was formerly 17,000.
Although it is facing challenges, Son Moragues is in a stronger position than other olive oil producers because it works with trees born on the mountain that have survived many climatic and social changes.
‘As global warming sweeps across the Med, most of the planted olive trees suffer and produce a lot less,’ Barbara explained. ‘We only work with the Mallorquina variety of olive, which was grafted onto wild olive trees in the 13th century.’
‘Our trees went through so much they’re perfectly adapted to the conditions in which they exist. They’re resistant to climatic change and illnesses. We’re somewhat protected from what’s happening elsewhere.’.
To protect its trees against the fruit fly, causing havoc elsewhere, Son Moragues sprays them with a mixture of water and kaolin clay.
Falling olive oil production in Europe and rising prices mean there’s no doubt it will become a luxury product.
As far as Barbara is concerned, ‘I think anyone who produces high quality olive oil is wise. It’s liquid gold. I think it has many qualities and should become one of the pillars of our diet once again.’
The many benefits of olives go far beyond just their oil. Mallorca-based Dos Alquimistas is building a flourishing business using the leaves of island olive trees.
Dos Alquimistas was founded by Katja Wöhr, who originally created hugely popular Flor de Sal d’Es Trenc salt from Mallorca, and healer Kate John. Katja and Kate met in 2017.
Before she became a healer, Kate suffered from chronic fatigue. She treated this with olive extract. Out walking between Deià and Sóller one day, Kate saw a farmer trimming his olive trees. Sge wondered what he would do with the leaves.
Folk remedies all over the Mediterranean have used olive leaves. Mallorcans traditionally drank olive leaf tea to help regulate blood pressure.
This is because olive leaves contain a powerful antioxidant named Oleuropein. It can help fight some internal infections, reduce fat, lower blood pressure and possibly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Olive leaves also contain apigenin, luteolin and cinchonine. Some people claim these may protect against cancer. Olive extract is an anti-inflammatory good for people who play a lot of sports. The pharmaceutical industry uses it to help treat multiple sclerosis.
Kate persuaded her friend that they should make use of the leaves.
Today, Dos Alquimistas upcycles olive leaves, making them into teas, infusions and tincture. It also makes Flor d’Oli for La Residencia in Deià, an infusion that uses trees from the hotel’s olive trees blended with roses, chamomile and lavender.
Looking to the future, Katja told me ‘We will be offering two new tea blends, an olive leaf tincture and a hydrolate essential oil in 2024. We’ll continue to work on our olive grove at Cinc Ponts so we can host experiences such as harvesting and distilling olive leaves or making a tincture or tea using other herbs from the Tramuntana. The grove will also be a space for events like lunches, ceremonies such as small rustic weddings as well as retreats with Kate as the ceremony master.’
Son Moragues offers a variety of ways to appreciate what it does. These include visits, an olive oil experience, picnics and learning how to taste olive oil like an expert. They happen all year round.
Elsewhere on the island, it’s possible to take guided tours of oil mills – tafona mallorquina – during the olive harvest which runs from now until January.
On the weekend of 18-19 November, the charming village of Caimari holds a celebration of the olive and its oil.
The village places a traditional olive press in the main square. Olive leaves cover the village square. Tubs of black and green olives line the streets of stone houses. There are all kinds of weird and wonderful items made of olive wood.
Demonstrations of olive oil making take place. Many of the restaurants and bars offer tastings. Over the weekend, there are all kinds of livestock exhibitions, art and musical performances.
For a sense of what the humble olive means to Mallorca, Caimari is a great place to start.