Meet Juan Galbis, producer of award-winning Bucària Extra Virgin olive oil

By Maria Lovchina | 15.11.2019

Masía els Terrers farm is situated at 700 meters above sea level, on the northern slope of La Sierra de Mariola Mountain Range, Valencia. Here, the highest quality Bucària Extra Virgin olive oil (EVOO) is made from the Arbequina cultivar. The brand received a Gold Medal at Olive Japan 2018, a prestigious international contest in Tokyo. We spoke to Juan Galbis, the owner of the Masía els Terrers farm, about growing olives at high altitudes and managing to create one of the top global olive oil brands in only ten years.

Photo credit: Masía els Terrers farm

– Could you say a few words about the Masía els Terrers olive farm and mill? What role do tradition, environment and local history play in your business?

– My family has lived here, in the highland area of Valencia, since 1690. According to the papers that we have at our disposal, a cultivated olive plantation was first mentioned in 1797 – and we have continuously worked this land ever since.

The farm is situated in Sierra de Mariola Natural Park, on the northern slope of this mountain range. Olive groves occupy 34 hectares of this land. Of these, we are currently cultivating 20 hectares. We plan to plant trees on the remaining land as soon as we find a water source for irrigation – the land is now suffering from the worst drought in the last hundred years.

The climate here is called highland Mediterranean. In summer, the temperature rises to 40°C, while in winter it may fall to –10°C. This gradient makes the taste and flavor of our oil more intense. It makes a remarkable difference.

– I know that you used to work in the banking field, what made you change your mind and return to your family estate?

– In the old days, every farm was a productive unit that provided food and other goods sustaining villagers’ families. People grew apples, plums, all kinds of fruit, grain crops, almonds, vines and olives. Then the 1990s came. Globalization made agricultural activity in this region unviable. Similar products could be found cheaper in the market, although their quality was nothing to compare with our local production. At the time, I was working in the technology department of a bank. I was responsible for the development and the management of projects which implied bringing changes into IT system.The circumstances made me look for an alternative, secure way to support my family. I started thinking of a possible solution which would not only allow us to continue our family business, but also help to preserve our agricultural traditions. We decided to give all of the Masía land over to olive groves and to choose the ecofarming model.

Three things had to be done first. We needed to plant new olive groves, which implied choosing the right variety, deciding on the planting distance and other things. Growing an olive tree is a whole universe of experience. Secondly, we needed to design and build the facilities for oil extraction. A mill existed here before. Oil was extracted with a press. Instead of that, we are now using modern centrifugal technology.

Thirdly, we needed to secure sales and marketing for Arbequina cultivar olive oil under Bucària brand. We are now actively working on this third stage of the project.

Extreme heat and drought, which we experienced in 2018, brought about the fourth point of the plan – we needed to find water for an underground irrigation system.

Photo credit:  Masía els Terrers farm

– Could you please say a few more words about you career before Bucària?

– «Only change itself is permanent», – says the I Ching, The Book of Changes. I graduated from the University of Valencia, where I studied physical science. Then, I worked in the IT departments of large corporations, such as IBM, Honeywell and Bull. Next, I moved on to one of Spain’s biggest banks, Caja de Ahorros de Valencia, to its Telecom and ATM Networks Department. I worked on design and implementation of software for big systems, and developed software for Business Intelligence. Having walked all along this path, I returned to my origins – to my olive groves.

The approaches and principles I used while working for others I now use in my own business – organic olive farming and production of the highest quality Extra Virgin Bucària olive oil. We want people outside Spain to learn about our oil, too, so our family business will go international.

– What makes organic farming so meaningful to you? What are the key benefits and challenges of organic farming in a changing environment?

– My belief is that if you come to a place, you need to make it better than it was before. Synthetic chemicals kill nature. Fertility of soil, for instance, depends on microorganisms and microfungi. They reprocess fertilizing agents into a substance that tree roots can suck on. If one destroys [these microorganisms], the field will be good for nothing, no matter how much fertilizer you throw in. All things in Nature have to be balanced. It has a lot to do with biodiversity. If we destroy something in this balance – for example, kill all the beneficial insects – we may need to fall back on synthetic chemicals.

I think a Human does not exist in Nature – he or she is Nature, a part of Nature. That is why, when one mistreats Nature, it is like throwing a stone up in the air – it might fall on your head.Ecologically clean products are guaranteed to be free of toxic agents, some of which can’t be removed from the human system and damage our health.

Photo credit: Masía els Terrers farm

– What advice would you give to an ordinary consumer seeking to choose a high quality Extra Virgin olive oil?

– Extra Virgin olive oil (EVOO) is oil of the highest quality. It is nothing but olive juice extracted mechanically, without chemicals or the use of any methods altering the structure of the juice. There must be no defects in the EVOO. The taste and aroma will remind you of the fruit it’s been crushed from, of the flavor of freshly cut grass, artichokes and tomato leaves. Pungency and bitterness must be balanced, too.

I advise looking for olive oil from the new harvest. In the course of time, oil gets oxidized, losing its aroma and healthy qualities. Oil should be stored at a temperature between 15°C and 21°C. At below-zero temperatures, oil freezes completely inside a bottle, or forms frozen clots, or gets cloudy. At indoor temperature, it returns to its normal condition.

Olive oil should be stored away from strong smells, in a tightly closed bottle in order to preserve it from oxidation. It is often stored in a 250-500 ml bottle – you can finish it quicker this way.I think that you may find a really great olive oil somewhere closer to its place of origin, at a mill that is located near the farm where olives had been picked. Bucària Extra Virgin olive oil is extracted and bottled on our farm, Masía els Terrers, where our plantations are and where we grow olives.

– Could you describe Bucària olive oil flavor and give us a few food pairing recommendations?

– It has a fresh flavour, reminding you of green apples, tomato leaves, almonds or fresh split pepper. The taste is complex and elegant. It gives very light bitterness and a slightly spicy ending. It is very pleasant to taste. It is good for breakfast, as an appetizer with bread, and works well in salads or with grilled fish and raw vegetables.

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