If you want to try a good Cornicabra EVOO in Castila-La-Mancha (Spain), Casas De Hualdo is definitely a must-try! With a score of 97/100 in the 2018 Flos Olei (reference for EVOO within the world), their Cornicabra Designation of Origin Montes de Toledo is a perfect pairing with octopus, salad or even red meat & game. Being in Toledo, we contacted them and they opened their doors to us! Below is the interview with Cristina Aizpún.
The Story: Can you tell us more about Casas de Hualdo? The story, the people behind it?
Cristina Aizpún: Casas de Hualdo was born in the 80’s, when Francisco Riberas, passionate about agriculture, acquired some plots of land in El Carpio de Tajo (Toledo), and progressively made the estate grow into the full agricultural project known today as Casas de Hualdo. He planted the 630 hectares of olive groves that coexist today with a mosaic of different crops such as corn, alfalfa, pistachio trees and even a herd of Manchega sheep. Mr Riberas passed away before seeing the conclusion of the mill, but his children have continued the project. We like to think about this oil as a humble homage from his family and colleagues, to the extraordinary man Mr Riberas was.
The Grove: The olive grove is located in a beautiful natural park, how are you preserving it? What is your point of view about sustainability?
C.A: We consider our farm as a closed cycle, where everything reverts to the land in any possible way: vegetal remains during harvest feed our sheep; the sheep’s manure fertilizes our land; when we prune our trees, branches and leaves are ground and left on the land to return nutrients to the soil…
Last project we have just inaugurated is a solar plant which will reduce in a notable way our carbon footprint, as we will be pumping the irrigation water by using this renewable energy.
Environmental friendly practices encourage the presence of a rich wildlife in the olive grove: golden eagles, deers, wild boars, rabbits, foxes, mongoose are our neighbors day after day.
Our olive grove was awarded twice with the EXTRASCAPE recognition, which chooses the most beautiful olive oil landscape in the world, both for the beauty of the land and for the good integration of the facilities in its natural and cultural environment.
The Varieties: Can you tell us what are the main varietals you are using & in your opinion what do they bring to the oils?
C.A: We cultivate 4 different varieties: Arbequina, Picual, Cornicabra and Manzanilla. Each of them provides different organoleptic sensations:
"The subtle fruitiness of Arbequina,
the green leafy aromas of the Picual,
the character of Cornicabra,
the intense fruitiness of Manzanilla… "
Harvesting them all in the very early days of the season maintains all their flavor and aromas alive, as well as the best of their benefits for health.
Having this choice allows consumers to use different varieties for different purposes: pairing is important to extract the best out of each variety.
Arbequina is ideal for cold dressings and particularly enhances tomato flavor, so it is excellent for tomato salads, gazpacho soup, sauces… but also great on desserts, due to its natural fruitiness.
Picual and Cornicabra are very rich in polyphenols, which make them stable at higher temperatures, and therefore very convenient when cooking, roasting, frying… These are great on grilled green vegetables (try Picual on green asparagus!), pulses like lentil and chickpea hot-pots, roasting a piece of lamb in the oven, and they bring rice, pasta and potato dishes to life!
The PDO: Can you describe the PDO Montes de Toledo?
C.A: PDO Montes de Toledo was created to protect and promote our native olive type from Castilla La Mancha region: CORNICABRA.
This variety has been present in our region since the ancient times of Roman, Greek and Phoenician settlements. Their role is key to make this varietal known around the world and communicate about this very special olive, as well as encourage producers to invest everyday into greater quality. Acting in an independent way, their control over production processes want to be a guarantee for quality that consumers may trust.
The Future: You are playing an important role in teaching young generations about EVOO, can you tell us more about this project & the Casitas De Hualdo?
C.A: While walking around the globe we have realized how important it is to communicate, inform and teach about extra virgin olive oil. A lot of myths and false ideas circulate still today. We then thought it would be even more important to start with younger generations, especially now, when children obesity has become such a big issue in countries of different parts of the world.
"We want children to learn about this very healthy product,
and at the same time, make them conscious about the responsibility they hold over their own health."
EVOO is excellent for growth, bones, skin, digestion, neurological formation… plus our taste and preferences as an adult are directly impacted and influenced by what we ate when we were little. So learning about the flavors and aromas that an EVOO should contain is key to grow into conscious consumers in the future. It’s also a useful tool for parents who want to introduce this healthy product into their children’s diet, as well as being a clear message for families in countries of little culture about olive oil, who would still today hesitate to give it to babies or young children out of lack of knowledge.
The Lab' : Casas de Hualdo is working together with the University of Madrid to understand the impact of water & sun on Olive cultivation a little better, could you tell us more about this project ?
C.A: Working together with the University has been a very rich experience. Getting the chance to research and improve, following results, our own cultivation techniques, it’s a great opportunity: all factors such as weather conditions, rainfall, soil are decisive to this purpose and are exactly the ones we deal with every day. This means results can be directly implemented on our olive grove. Different results are extracted: how different varietals react to different sun conditions depending on their orientation, the irrigation techniques (how does a tree react to deficit irrigation for instance), the impact on volumes of production, the quality of the oil extracted, the suitability of different cultivation techniques for one or another varietal, etc…
Coming Soon: Casas de Hualdo is not only an olive oil producer, you are present in other agricultural sectors, can you tell us more about your project of opening a cheese making branch?
C.A: Casas de Hualdo is about to start building a dairy in the farm. Having grown a Manchega sheep herd along the years, it came as a natural idea to start making our own cheese and round up a little bit more the project of this estate, making it even more complete. We already care for the production of quality milk, from this special sheep breed, well known for its higher nutritional content and rich flavor. We are now keen to come up on the market with original and artisan cheeses that reflect Casas de Hualdo spirit: the love for this land, and a lot of hard work translated into well-finished products.
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