Oasis in the Desert

A trip to Spain isn’t usually synonymous with a trek through the desert.

Wrong.

Spain has a few desert regions, namely the Bardenas Reales in Navarra, and the Tabernas Desert in Andaluía, and it was a visit to the latter that inspired this blog post.

I am a bit of an olive oil geek, a bit of a collector you might say, with provenance, flavour and sustainability in my must haves list. I store it in our cellar at home, and with its sophisticated production methods, filtration and acidity levels, it keeps for longer than a year nowadays. This allows me to buy lots of it, and use it in pretty much everything except the breakfast porridge.

Spanish olive oil is some of the best in the world.

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Last Saturday’s pilgrimage was to the Oro del Desierto, an organic producer  slap bang in the middle of the breathtaking Tabernas Desert, and about an hour’s run from our base here in Andalucía.

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We had the extra excuse for a trip as it was my husband’s birthday and they have a wonderful restaurant, serving local organic produce that is simply Heaven on a plate.

Access to these is probably on one of the worst roads in Europe, and would in truth be best done in a 4 x 4 vehicle, but we got there none the less, shaken but not stirred. Despite being on the Carretera Nacional  340, we drove past a bar called Route 66, which tended to skew any semblance of geographic touchstones we might have had.

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The views en route are stunning, and the vistas take in sights that one would associate with being much further away from home, and you get the sense that it is a  privilege to be there.

It isn’t all perfect.

The Spaniards have a habit of despoiling things of beauty as they seem to have an abundance of it, so there are many ramshackle businesses, often with piles of rubbish carelessly strewn at the side of the buildings they occupy which themselves can only be classed as an eyesore.

That said, there is much beauty to behold. Laden olive groves everywhere, soil erosion projects, with nervous and spindly beech trees desperately hanging on for grim life, with their root systems attempting to hold what little soil there is in place so that the olive groves might flourish. Eerie rock formations, that have in their time, appeared in the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns loom high above the road as you drive through, with the odd menacing eagle circling above in the vain hope of some roadkill to devour.

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Oddly, the “main drag” for want of a better expression, running up to the place we were going has hotels, bars and even a discotheque, proving that it is in itself a tourist destination, with thousands coming here each summer to take in the Wild West Shows a little further down the road at the locations that these iconic films were set.

 

However, a shoot out at the O.K. Corral was not on our agenda, ours was more a journey of discovery of the palate.

We were greeted in the usual warm fashion, and were taken through a tasting before lunch as this is considered to be more effective for the taste buds. As the olives are now being harvested, we were able to taste some oil made just three days before, along with the usual array of oils they produce there.

Ever the geek, I had dug out my tasting notes from the year previous, so I could compare and contrast with what I had bought the year before, and make some informed choices on my purchases.

After all, it has to last me an entire year until I return again.

The oils at El Oro del Desierto are world-class organic olive oils, and are simply showstoppers in the canon of the discerning cook. No kitchen on Earth should be without a bottle, but that’s just my opinion.

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I placed my order, with their Valle de la Luz special collection boasting pride of place, made from very late harvested olives. I felt of course obliged to buy just a smattering of other oils (and vinegar) to make my purchase as varied as possible.

It was then time for lunch.

It is nigh on impossible to describe the menu. While it is simple in format, the quality of the food that arrives on the plate is unsurpassed, and every mouthful deserved to be savoured, as it would be a long time until I get to visit there once more.

We opted for goose terrine with a wild raspberry sauce and a confit of dried tomatoes, peppers and capers as a starter, followed by a shoulder of kid and suckling pig for our respective main courses. Dessert was for me the eponymous leche frita with a bitter orange sauce, while the Birthday Boy had figs baked in an almond sauce.

To say it was an out-of-body experience would be an understatement.

We lingered over the last of the Matarromera Reserva 2011 took our coffees on the sun drenched terrace next to the oil mill which despite it being a Saturday was in full production. We hung on until the very last moment, picked up our box of goodies and left, with the promise that we would return again soon.

If you are ever in Andalucía make sure you visit.

You won’t regret it.

 

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