Our As Pontis Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil was a Gold Winner at the 2017 New York International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition (NYIOOC) and the estate Almazara As Pontis was just recognized as The Best Olive Oil Mill of Spain by the Spanish Association of Olive Municipalities (AEMO). In celebration, Kitty Keller tells her story of discovering As Pontis:
"Back in 2008, I was invited to attend the Salón De Gourmets in España—Spain's Fancy Food Show, if you will. We were put up in a faded-glory 5-star hotel where they still put linen cloths on the beds so that you could wipe your feet before you turned in. It was where all the bullfighters and picadores stayed. They were everywhere. The elevator doors would open to a cluster of matadors in their little pink socks.
the bus trip
"The actual fairgrounds were far off, so they picked us up—importers from all over the world—in a bus. I sat next to a Japanese importer and we exchanged business cards. In Japan, I knew, it is very important to hold the card with both hands, between one's thumbs, and to read its entirety before putting it into one's pocket or purse. This ritual completed, we were free to chat. As for my Spanish companions, I don't speak the language, but I know lots of the nouns for food, and because I speak French, if I know the subject of conversation, I can follow. So we were a lively bunch.
"At the fairgrounds, I had to see 25 people over a period of three days. It's a lot, and you are meeting people whose economic fortune is on the line, so you want to do them justice. They are passionate and very earnest.
"But, boy is it crowded. 'My gosh, Kitty,' a friend observed, 'it's like you are cattle stuck in the middle of a barn!' It was an invigorating mix, though. You'd have the Nestlé girls in their hot pants right next to some nuns selling cakes.
"Most of the presenters offered products that we would not carry, for one reason or another. When that reason is taste, I know right away. I never half-like something. I either love it, or it's not for us—I only have two gears. There is no reason, when foraging, to linger on items to which one has a tepid response.
"I tried like 60 aceites de olivas. During lunchtime, I wandered over to these two guys selling olive oil. I tasted it and it was delicious. It was in stark contrast to the olive oil being put out by Spain at the time, though things have improved 100 percent since 2008. Still, these guys were ahead of the curve. They were called Almazara As Pontis. It was the first year that they had a commercial product.
"I liked them, and I liked their sincerity. They were people who worked hard for a living. It's one thing to have a good product, but it's a whole other thing to have bootstrapped oneself into it. Their father had had a certain amount of money, but he didn't want his sons divided. So their inheritance was an oil mill. Their father ensured that Carlos and Miguel Carrasco (pictured, top) would work together to make their fortune.
"I told my friend John Cancilla, an agent for Marqués de Valdueza, about the olive oil. He tasted it and said "Oh my god, it's really good." He started helping the brothers with their labeling and bottling, and in 2010, he included it in a promotion for products of Extremadura.
"'Extrema dura', by the way, means 'extremely hard' in Spanish. This, the least populated region of Spain, is a place of rough soil, blistering summers and hard labor on the land. It is also the region of the acorn-fed Iberian Black Pig, which gives us the delicacy jamón ibérico. The estate Almazara As Pontis is in the far north-western part of Extremadura, on the border of Spain, just a jump away from Portugal.
"Each year, I'd stop in at the shows and say hello to the brothers, and each year their olive oil was even better. By this time, Pieralisi, the Italian maker of state-of-the-art mill equipment, had turned Almazara As Pontis into a test site for their latest equipment. In 2015, we decided we'd import the olive oil. I'd been wanting a commercial partnership with them for years (one looks for quality in a partner as well as quality in a product) and finally the time was right.
a kl keller exclusive
"You know, people sometimes ask me how we get our exclusives. This is a funny thing, because the answer is: people give them to us. We don't ask for them. But by the time we get an exclusive, we've already been working with a producer for years, talking with them, growing with them, and helping them. It truly is about long-term relationships. We just try to do our best job.
the best olive oil mill of spain
"By 2016, Almazara As Pontis was already using the pneumatic process by which an oil can be processed at sometimes as low as 18°—a shockingly low number, when you know that anyone in the world considers 28° just golden. The lower the milling temperature, the better the oil will be, so you can just imagine the advantage this is.
"In their statement about why they chose it as The Best Olive Oil Mill of Spain 2017, the AEMO enthused about how immaculate the mill at Almazara As Pontis is (pictured). Great olive oil is contingent upon clean equipment and the speed by which it can be processed from olive to bottle, and the Carrasco brothers have taken all the right steps. Their Vieiru Extra Virgin Olive Oil, DOP is a wonderful estate olive oil, made of 100% Manzanilla Cacereña olives (pictured) from their own groves, and the As Pontis Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil is an exceptional olive oil made solely from organic Manzanilla Cacereña olives from their own and neighboring groves. Which brings me to:
3 things I like about As Pontis Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1. The quality
2. It's organic
3. The fantastic value of quality to price
"When I tell people in the biz the price of our As Pontis Organic EVOO, they do a double-take, since it's a spectacular price for an organic olive oil, especially one of this quality. And did you know that As Pontis Extra Virgin Olive Oil is organic and tested for pesticides? This means that there is no blowover from ancilliary crops.
"And, by the way, these are teeny-tiny plots (pictured). In the industry, they're called "inefficient", which means that the stands of trees are too close together to allow big machines in. Large plots are "efficient", meaning that huge machines can rake through. The "inefficiency" of tiny plots makes hand-harvesting mandatory, which preserves a rural way of life for many. Almazara As Pontis is in such a desolate area of Extremadura, it's really the only industry there. It also means a more expensive olive oil, though considering all this, As Pontis and Vieiru are both strikingly affordable."
two to try
Made with 100% Manzanilla Cacereña olives from old, indigenous trees
Retailer alert: This organic EVOO is an incredible value! Despite the fact that it just won Gold at the NYIOOC, it is not a finicky finishing oil. As Pontis Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a food-friendly olive oil, particularly approachable in both flavor profile and price.
Vieiru Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the estate oil of Almazara As Pontis, carries a DOP Gata-Hurdes designation of origin, which ensures that the single-varietal olives must be virgin and of high stabilitiy. It's a great all-purpose oil with a fresh green olive nose, hints of bitterness and a lovely long finish.