On my flight to Spain, I watched a documentary called Crafted, which follows the lives of three artisans - a chef, a knife welder and potter - as they reject mass production and carefully hone their craft. It was directed by Morgan Spurlock of SuperSize Me-fame and sponsored by non other than...Haagen Daz? Yes, the ice cream brand owned by the mega food conglomerate General Mills.
This is just one example of how established brands spend big bucks trying to reposition themselves as artisanal, dusting off their “heritage” and recycling it for something more valuable. At the same time, smaller startups often build their whole identities around their hand-crafted products, which in reality doesn’t always mean better quality. Yet at the El Vinculo olive oil mill in Andalusia, Juan Urruti and his family have genuinely been living the artisan lifestyle since the mill was founded back in 1755.
Perched above the stunning Zahara reservoir, next to Grazalema National Park, El Vinculo is not only one of the oldest mills in the region but also one of the last to use traditional cold press methods of production. This means they hand pick the olives, mill them immediately after harvest to lock in the flavor, press them in stacked mats to slowly squeeze out the oil and water, and finally bottle the separated oil, again by hand.
For all the love they put into their product, Spain doesn’t seem to get the same recognition for its olive oil production as, say, Italy. But it turns out they are the largest producer of any country, supplying 40% of the world’s olive oil. In fact, one of the first things you notice in Andalusia are the rows of olive trees that systematically line the landscape for miles upon miles (which makes sense considering they have 220 million of them growing across the country).
Juan’s son, Juan Jr, gave us the tour of his family’s mill and then let us sample the olive oil, along with a glass of their sherry. We snacked as he played flamenco guitar in a rustic dining room filled with antique photos of famous bullfighters and Hemingway - exactly who you’d expect in a Spanish cafe, except that these were people his family had actually encountered in their hometown. The whole experience was an authentic Spanish moment - and something no amount of marketing budget could ever mass produce.