Cooperating in Cómpeta

I made a lovely walk before christmas and had planned to write a post about it (one of the many unwritten posts) – I had even thought of a title – “a well rounded day” as, not only was the walk nicely circular, but the beginning and the end of the day tied up surprisingly well.

It was actually a very long walk of over 32 kms with an accumulated elevation of 958 metres and very hard going in the beginning because I seemed to have a complete lack of energy, and hard going at the end because I was knackered from over 9 hours walking.

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But the scenery on my route from home to La Fabrica de la Luz, via Puerto Blanquillo, stopping off for half an hour’s rest and a spot of late lunch at El Acebuchal and back via the helipad was magnificent. The last section was slightly less pleasant than the rest of the day and involved a kilometre or so of road walking back towards Cómpeta in the gathering darkness, but passing the goatherd and his flock was a welcome diversion.

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And now I will tell you about the other side to this “well rounded day”. At the beginning of this walk, whilst picking my way along the acequia (irrigation channel) very high above the road below with a very steep drop, I noticed how plump and lovely and plentiful the olives were looking and as I rounded a bend I came across a farmer preparing to collect his crop. No mechanical harvesting in these parts, the only machinery that can be used on this very steep and rocky terrain is a sturdy stick to wallop the branches, a net to catch the fruit and a mule to carry the load to the nearest road. It is very hard work and often the whole family will bring a picnic and spend their weekends clearing the trees. It is a lovely sight to behold, but must be back-breaking and dangerous work on such steep slopes.

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So my beautiful day started with olives, and surprisingly ended the same way. As I walked into the top end of Cómpeta I could see a line of pick-up trucks parked along the road, and as I came closer I realised that farmers were waiting to deliver and weigh-in their crops at the olive-oil cooperative “La Reciproca de Cómpeta”. There were possibly a couple of dozen trucks waiting to deliver their sacks of olives. Being naturally very nosey I wanted to take a look and see what was happening at the point of delivery and was allowed to watch while a farmer emptied his sacks into the metal grid in the ground. I was delighted to get this opportunity to see the farmers delivering their crop – and I am sure that the guy I had seen early in the morning was probably waiting in the queue before going home for a well earned dinner (or perhaps more likely to the bar for a well-earned beer or anís).

I was further cheered during the last stage of my walk to pass through the village and enjoy the christmas decorations before carefully picking my way along the goat track in the pitch dark for the last ten minutes of my journey (luckily my phone had enough battery remaining to light my way).

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So, having been pleased with myself that my day went so well, you can imagine that I was delighted when I learned that my garden club (who so kindly invite me to make a presentation about my camino adventures each year) had arranged a visit to La Reciproca for our January meeting – now I could see what went on after the olives were delivered.

Thanks to our knowledgeable host Sophie we were given an tour of the premises and she patiently answered all our many questions.

The cooperative has 320 associates who are entitled to have their crop processed. Other ‘clients’ can also use the facilities, but have to be registered with the local government as producers. The picking season runs from mid-November to mid-February, with December being the busiest period.

After delivery the olives are separated from any twigs and leaves (the goatherds collect the leaves for their flocks to enjoy), and the fruit is taken via conveyor belt to be weighed and a sample of each batch is taken and sent to a laboratory in Algarrobo to test for yield. The average amount of oil extracted from an olive is around 20%. This amount varies according to weather conditions in any year, with a range of around 18% to 23%. 2015/16 has been a particularly poor year with very little rainfall and the yield has been quite low.

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There is considerable competition between the farmers, and those whose olives test for the highest percentage of yield feel justifiably proud and in return receive a greater payment for their crop. There is a chart on the wall showing the producers identification number with their respective percentage.

The cooperative handles around one million kilos of olives each year which produce about 200 thousand kilos of oil. The price received for the total crop doesn’t vary much from year to year, because if it is a bumper crop and there is an abundance of oil, the price per kilo will be lower, whereas if there is a lower yield, as this year, there will be less availability and therefore the price per litre will be higher.

The local variety of olives is Nevadillo Blanco, so called because of the silvery white underside of the leaves. They are used only for production of oil, not for eating. After weighing, the olives need to be processed within 24 hours to preserve their freshness and next go into a crushing machine where the pips are separated from the fruit, then to a mixing machine for 3-4 hours where an olive ‘mush’ is formed, and onwards to a centrifugal spinner where the oil is extracted from the mush.

The oil is stored in huge stainless steel tanks awaiting sale. Much of the produce is sold locally in attractive 5 litre cans and the remainder might be sold to producers in Barcelona where they grow the same variety but not in great quantity, and in a very productive year it can even be sold to Italy for mixing with their own oil, although we were told that this was not a preferred customer. Ninety percent of the oil produced in Cómpeta is classified as extra virgin.

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Nothing is wasted during the production of the oil, the pips are sold to the town hall and used as fuel to heat the indoor swimming pool throughout the year. The ‘mush’ is collected to be dried and also used as fuel.

In 2016 the cooperative are celebrating their centenary. I imagine during most of these 100 years that the queues waiting to deliver their crop on a busy December day were of the four-legged, rather than four-wheeled variety.

There are very few new olive trees being planted these days (they take around five years to produce a crop) and the local crop of choice is avocados which produce a good income and I believe grants are available to establish new orchards.

This was a fascinating visit that was attended by a record number of garden club members all totally absorbed by the tour.

About magwood

Trepidatious Traveller - camino blog is about preparing for and walking the Camino de Santiago. Many future pilgrims have found the blog useful and inspiring, and many who have no plans to walk the camino have simply enjoyed the dialogue http://www.magwood.me
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24 Responses to Cooperating in Cómpeta

  1. It’s fascinating to hear the background of olive oil. How lucky to have seen the process from harvest to production. If you’re buying olive oil so fresh I understand why it tasted so much better in Spain than the oil I buy at my grocery store here in Texas. Just curious about how you got to live in Spain. I never got to hear the back story.

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    • magwood says:

      Aha…maybe an idea for another post sometime. There are many expats in this area, from all around Europe and further afield. We make a very diverse community who, on the whole, get along very well. It’s a great opportunity to get to know well people of different nationalities and learn their different ‘traits’. I am very privileged to have close friends from around the world who I would be unlikely to know if I had stayed in the UK. And I also count myself lucky that I have so many ‘cyber’ friends via my blog. And I love it when people mention in their comment where they are from – best wishes to you in Texas for a peaceful and adventurous year in 2016 (maybe that’s a contradiction of terms – but I’m sure you know what I mean!)

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  2. June Pettipas says:

    Once again another entertaining and informative read. So enjoy your stories. Here in Nova Scotia we are in deep winter now and this cheers me up. Thanks, June

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    • magwood says:

      Thanks June, I’m gLad to be able to bring you some spanish cheer on a cold winter’s day. It is a bit chilly here today, but the sun is still shining in a beautiful blue sky. Sorry to ‘rub it in’!

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  3. Thanks so much for the olives to oil tour. I l-o-v-e olives. We had a presenter at the library a couple years ago who explained the color of high grade olive oil is a fascinating yellow. The cheap oil in grocery stores is not the best quality–you need to spend $$ for that. Like you said, they don’t waste a thing in the process. Even the bottom of the barrel low grade is sold to someone. Still a fascinating subject. I would have loved looking over your shoulder.
    I wave from the eastern shores of Ontario, Canada.:-D

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    • magwood says:

      Hi Tess, glad you enjoyed the post. I love this type of tour. We also have lots of grapes growing on the slopes around us – perhaps I will do a piece on the making of locally produced wine later in the year. We have one very high tech bodega, one that is more traditional and many small producers who make wine for their own consumption. It is largely very sweet – like sherry – and very potent!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. CINDY says:

    Wonderful description of our enjoyable morning, thank you Maggie.

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    • magwood says:

      Thanks Cindy – I enjoyed it so much – as did everyone else I imagine. Sorry I couldn’t join you all for coffee afterwards. I’m also looking forward to the the next meeting about garden pests – I have so many (mostly weeds at this time of year!)

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  5. Conchy says:

    Love your blog. Thanks for this so interesting story on how the olive oil that we take for granted . is produced. Keep it up. I live in Puerto Rico. Right now it is sunny and very warm: 89 degrees F.

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    • magwood says:

      Thanks Conchy – I love it that everyone is telling me where they are writing from this time. Puerto Rico sounds so romantic. We have lovely sunshine and blue sky here in Malaga Province, but it is accompanied by cold winds right now.

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  6. Maureen Gillespie says:

    So interesting! Would love to have been there.

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  7. pmjsmith says:

    Hello from Canada; I have followed you for a while now and enjoy your travels. My friend and I did part of the French way two years ago then last year did the coastal route in Portugal. We are 70 + but love walking with our 11lb. backpacks without making reservations. In other words the Caminos gave spoilt us. We are ready for another walk but others seem to insist on booking places to stay. With all your experience do you have any suggestions? Canada has lovely hikes but 100 km apart. We can’t carry tents etc any longer so have to fly all the way to Europe. Thanks for your attention. Pat Smith

    Sent from my iPhone

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    • magwood says:

      Sometimes on Camino there can be a bit of a ‘bed race’. And the more of us that get sucked into this mentality, the worse it gets. There have been very few times when an albergues was completely full and I was turned away – actually only once I think in three caminos. And that was because the albergue in the previous village was unexpectedly closed. There are usually other options, which may involve spending more than you would at an albergue.

      Of course I walk in a quieter period During April/May and there are less pilgrims around than in the summer. I think you need to have sufficient funding to pay for the occasional hostel. I do sometimes ring ahead to reserve a bed in a private albergue, but only on the day of travel. There is no need to commit to your stopping places more than a day ahead which will leave you plenty of flexibility. Have you thought about the Via de la Plata – there seemed to be plenty of accommodation on this route.

      I am very impressed with your pack weight – mine is always a couple of kilos above that, but I know I can carry it without a problem so I don’t stress too much about weight now.

      I would be interested to know which route you decide upon – do let me know.
      Buen Camino!

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  8. Thanks Maggie for another fascinating post. I would have LOVED to have seen how olive oil was made and to see farmers picking the olives is truly a full circle experience.
    Love your posts…am sitting in the snowy mountains of Bend, Oregon, soon off to the Yucatan and Belize to enjoy 6 weeks of sun. I always look forward to hearing what you are up too. Thanks so much for posting…
    Cathy Platin

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    • magwood says:

      I’m really delighted that I am getting to know where people are writing from. Thanks for sharing Cathy. Yucatan and Belize sound wonderful – I am sure you will really appreciate the warm weather after your snowy mountains. Wishing you a fabulous time. Buen Viaje!

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  9. David Wolfe says:

    WOW now over300,000 hits that’s amazing. Congratulations but it’s a reflection of your unique ability to post interesting and factual stories about your travels.

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  10. David High says:

    Loved the Article on Olive Oil Production.Best Wishes,David High

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    • magwood says:

      Hello David. Many thanks for your comment – it was a really interesting tour.
      How is your grandson? I sincerely hope he is doing well.
      Best wishes, Maggie

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      • David High says:

        Hello Maggie,thank you for your interest in William,he is doing a lot better now,he has had a “peg”inserted into his stomach,which is used to make sure he is getting the right amount of food daily,which creates another problem for my daughter as he is getting heavier,it is becoming a problem to carry him upstairs,so she is trying to finance an extension to her house so that William can have a bedroom/bathroom downstairs.She will get a grant for some of the work but she has to raise some of the funding herself,so she is doing sponsored walks,coffee mornings,interviews wth local radio etc.But William himself seams to be growing bigger and stronger,I don’t know what the future holds for him,but I am sure that you mentioning his name while you were in Santiago last year has helped,I am a big believer in prayer. So,congratulation on achieving 300,000 hits,your target now must be 1 million !,say hello to David,best wishes to you both for 2016,My regards.David

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  11. mary lynch says:

    Thanks Maggie for a very interesting post about olive production.
    Competa always strikes me as being a place where plenty of things happen! Nerja
    always has lots of things going on but it doesn’t seem to compare to Competa perhaps
    I need to go out and look! Congratulations on a wonderful walk and thanks for bringing
    us along. Buen camino and much love.

    Like

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