A Conversation with Mina's Master Miller
Like grains and spices, olive oil is a kitchen commodity valued around the world over. Olive oil’s influence and importance doesn’t merely span the globe, but also recorded history: It’s widely thought that olive oil was first cultivated in the Mediterranean around 6,000 years ago.
From ancient history to the Roman Era to Al-Andalus to today, olive oil is a precious dietary source and all-around miracle elixir. Modern supermarkets dedicate shelves upon shelves to the stuff and you can probably find a bottle or two in most kitchens worldwide.
But for many consumers, the world of olive oil remains shrouded in secrecy: extra virgin versus virgin? Green or golden? Good for frying or dressing? And what’s up with that giant tin touting olive-oil blends sourced from half a dozen countries? There are a lot of questions floating around out there, so to get some answers, we went straight to the source: Mina’s master miller, Ignacio Segura.
A long-time olive oil expert and consultant, Segura began working with Mina in 2014. In November 2021, we visited him on the family farm in Morocco, where he not only shed light on the industry at large but also walked us through the meticulous growing, harvesting, and production process behind every bottle of Mina EVOO.
MOROCCO IS A LAND OF BEAUTIFUL CONTRASTS, WITH DIFFERENT CLIMATIC REGIONS.
LET'S START AT THE BEGINNING.
WALK US THROUGH THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF OLIVE OIL.
Segura: Regardless of the many different marketing names (pure, extra light, etc.) and blends with other cheaper and unhealthier vegetable oils, there are four commercial qualities. In order of quality, they are: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Virgin Olive Oil, Olive Oil, and Olive-Pomace Oil.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Virgin Olive Oil are all natural; Olive Oil and Olive-Pomace Oil are chemically refined in order to be fit for human consumption. EVOO is probably the healthiest oil on earth—it nutritionally enriches any food, both raw and cooked, as well as perfumes it. Quality EVOO is healthier and fruitier than any other standard EVOO.
WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT THE GLOBAL OLIVE OIL TRADE?
Segura: Large commodity olive oil brands try to maximize their profits by buying oils of varying quality as cheaply as possible from different origins—it’s more about saving costs than consumer health and pleasure. It’s smart to be selective when choosing olive oils: look for those that guarantee both origin and quality.
WATCH THE VIDEO
Single Origin Moroccan Extra Virgin Olive Oil
WHAT TYPES OF OLIVES DOES MINA USE FOR ITS EVOO?
Segura: With its focus on authentic Moroccan pantry staples, Mina uses mainly Beldi cultivar (also called Moroccan Picholine). These olives are special in that they have a double aptitude—they are excellent for the production of EVOO and are recognized as one of the best table olives.
Traditional virgin olive oil was produced with the discard of overripe olives of lesser quality. But to make our EVOO, we harvest the best olives early so that the quality obtained is exceptional, both organoleptically and physically-chemically, with a very significant content of healthy properties (polyphenol content).
WHERE ARE THEY GROWN?
Segura: Morocco is a land of beautiful contrasts, with different climatic regions. Mina’s Beldi olives are grown in the Fès-Meknès region, one of the best areas in the world for olive production. Fès-Meknès has a Mediterranean climate, with cold winters and hot, dry summers—ideal conditions for growing olive groves.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN MINA'S HARVESTING PROCESS?
Segura: The family farm produces olives of impeccable quality, which are harvested in their entirety from the tree.
With the aim of producing the best possible quality for Mina EVOO, the harvest occurs in October and November. As our master miller, it is my job to determine the optimal time of harvest in the grove, when I find the desired aromatic development and when laboratory results confirm the olives’ optimal goodness.
We then use a double hammer mill system to crush the olives into a paste. Made entirely of stainless steel, this system crushes the olives quickly and hygienically, with hardly any increase in temperature, which could damage the quality of the final product.
ONCE THE OLIVES HAVE BEEN CRUSHED INTO A PASTE, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Segura: After crushing, it is essential to then soften the olive paste in order to develop the aromatic compounds and reduce the emulsion produced in the crusher.
To do this, we could increase in temperature in this phase—heat would improve the extraction yield, but it would destroy qualities related to taste, aroma, and overall nutrition. For this reason, it is very important to carry out the process cold (below 81°F).
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE MINA EVOO'S LOOK AND TASTE?
Segura: Most people don’t know this, but we actually should not be guided by the color of the oil to describe its properties—for this reason, professional tasters test from dark blue drinking glasses. (The dark blue tint prevents testers from being influenced by the olive oil’s color.) Like all great extra virgin olive oils, Mina beautifully balances in the mouth between spicy and bitter notes. Mina EVOO is of medium intensity on the palate and is full of aromatic nuances, like almond, artichoke, fresh-cut grass and olive leaves. Its flavor is characteristic of the best fresh Moroccan Beldi olives, processed at their optimum point of ripeness to create the perfect balance of health and taste.