Olive oil mill in Spain has been in the family for more than 200 years



rick mcginnis/metro toronto


Above, miles of olive groves cover the landscape around Baena, Spain.


rick mcginnis/metro toronto

Francisco Nuñez de Prado runs the family olive oil business with his younger brother.

rick mcginnis/metro toronto

The exterior of the Nuñez de Prado olive oil mill in Baena, Spain.

Driving to Baena from either Granada or Cordoba means passing through miles and miles of olive groves, rows and rows of thick, hunched trees planted in rows, running up and down the sun-baked hills of central Andalucia.

If you like to cook, or even if you just like to eat, it’s worth the trip to Baena to see how they make one of those ingredients that no kitchen can be without: olive oil.

The Nuñez de Prado olive oil mill is on a street just outside the centre of Baena, a large, whitewashed complex that’s been producing olive oil since the White House was new and Napoleon was an ambitious young officer. If you’re lucky, you’ll be greeted by Francisco Nuñez de Prado, who runs the family business with his younger brother.

A charming man in a blue blazer and tie, he’s still proud to show visitors around the complex where his family has been making olive oil for more than 200 years. On a late spring day, the factory is quiet; the harvest is still out in the fields on the 160,000 olive trees the family has harvested by hand in the fall, picked from the trees by skilled workers instead of being knocked down by beaters, the more customary and economical method.

Over a late breakfast of the best Serrano ham I’ve had so far and a family egg dish, finished off with local oranges served with honey and olive oil, Francisco shows off the family’s top vintage of olive oil, Nuñez de Prado Flor, a slightly cloudy, golden-green oil in a square bottle that’s extracted from olive paste that’s slowly rotated in barrels.

The company’s oil, organic and artisan-made, is carried by retailers like Whole Foods, but always under the family name; Francisco is careful to stress that Nuñez de Prado doesn’t do custom bottling or sell its oil under other name brands.

The meal over, he takes us on a tour of the factory, starting in the room where three ancient conical stones crush the olives as they’re delivered from the fields, then past the presses and tanks where the oil is decanted and stored.

After walking us through a huge, dim room where looming stainless steel tanks store the finished product, he shows us how you taste olive oil, then ends the tour in a little room off the factory’s courtyard, where two rows of huge clay pots are set into the floor.

This is where the oil used to be stored, he says, in the old days; they keep the room on display as a reminder of the family’s long history in these buildings.

It’s hard not to envy Francisco, for his serene pride in his job and his family’s business, his obvious love of the buildings where they’ve gone about that business, even his immaculate tailoring and his way of life in this ancient town, with it’s white-walled streets that climb to the top of a hill crowned by two churches, one of which still uses a minaret built by the Moors as its bell tower.

If you don’t feel like pressing on to Cordoba or Granada or to the seaside towns on the Costa del Sol to the south, you can always spend a day in Baena, enjoy a meal at one of the bars or restaurants around the Plaza de la Constitución. During Easter Week, the normally quiet town explodes with the sound of hundreds of drummers in rival teams competing to see who can make the most thundering din, a brief noisy eruption in a cycle that hasn’t changed for generations.

getting there

  • For more information on travelling to Spain’s Costa del Sol, please visit www.transatholidays.com.

  • Transat flies direct from Montreal to Malaga once a week from June through Oct. 20.

  • Transat also flies direct from Toronto to Madrid once a week from June through Oct. 22.