Not even in his wildest dreams Moacir Carvalho Dias, 43, a producer of olive oil, expected that. After all, he had decided to include his olive oil in the topmost worldwide tournament just to get a more detailed appraisal. All he wanted was to know if he was on the right track. And he was! In its first extraction, held in February 2018, Irarema olive oil won one of the most important awards in the olive oil sector worldwide. With its “Intense” label, it was voted the best olive oil in the world, in the “Soft Blend” category, at the New York Olive Oil Contest, in the USA, whose jury includes 40 experts of various nationalities. It was the first Brazilian olive oil to gain such recognition. The olive oil produced by Moacir, at the Irarema Farm, in São Sebastião da Grama, is a rare case of quick and global success. “It was something really surprising. I had no hope of winning,” said the producer, who has a degree in civil engineering.
For him, international recognition served as an incentive to improve and increase production. From the scarce 40 liters of his first extraction – the equivalent of eighty 500-ml bottles – in 2018, the farm is estimated to close this year with a production of 4 thousand liters, i.e., 100 times more. “Our goal is to produce 60,000 liters of olive oil per year,” he said. One of the key factors to help increase production on the farm is the cultivated area. Two years ago, Irarema farm had only 5,000 olive trees. Today, there are 20,000 trees occupying less than 20% of the 480 hectares of the property, which is in Mantiqueira mountain range. “And we go on investing in technical know-how and improvement of our staff”. Besides the award-winning “Intense” oil, we also produce the fruity Irarema, the smoked Irarema and four flavored Irarema oils: rosemary, garlic, Sicilian lemon and basil. Prices range from R$ 35 for the 250-ml flavored oils, to R$ 64.90 for the 500-ml bottle of Intense oil. “Our history is cool. But none of this would have happened if I hadn’t prepared myself”. The preparation to which he refers began in 2015, the year when his father, Mauricio, 71, sold the soybean farm he had in the state of Mato Grosso and bought Irarema farm. The initial idea was that the family, who used to live in the town of Poços de Caldas (MG), would move to the property, located less than 10 km from the town. “We wanted a quiet place to live in peace. That’s all,” said Mauricio. It happens that other farms in the region already produced olive oil, inspiring father and son to enter the business, but without high expectations. This was the time when he gave up the catering company that he owned and decided to learn how to produce olive oil. In 2015, he went to study at the School of Oil Techniques of the Polytechnic Institute of Bragança (IPB), in Portugal.
He enjoyed the experience so much that he returned in the following year to take a stage with one of his IPB professors who produces olive oil in Portuguese lands. “It was an extraordinarily rich experience. I learned a lot about the entire production process, from planting to harvesting”. He already felt he had the skills to make his own olive oil, but wanted to improve even more. In 2017 he traveled to the region that is the largest olive oil producer on the planet: the province of Jaén in Spain. With an annual production of over 540,000 liters – more than all the production in Greece, third in the world ranking of producers – that region of Spain houses the University of Jaen, where the Olive Oil Technique course is taught, a course that people from all over the world wish to take. There, he took the Master Oliveculture course and acquired techniques and know-how that would make all the difference in his work. Identifying the appropriate place to plant according to the incidence of sunlight and the slope of the soil, the correct way to apply fertilizers, notions of business, among other things, were part of the curriculum. “After I came back from Spain, I was confident that I could make good oil. But not to the point of being considered the best in the world”.
PURE AROMA The fact is that the international awards kept coming, and deservedly in the opinion of the greatest oil specialist in Brazil, member of the Organizzazione Nazionale Assaggiatori Olio D’Oliva, in Italy, and the first Brazilian to be a member of the panel of the New York International Olive Oil Competition, the olive oil specialist Sandro Marques spares no praise for Irarema olive oils. “They are all of the highest quality, of international standard. The awards did not come by chance,” he said. According to him, the greatest merit of Irarema’s award-winning olive oil is what connoisseurs call pure aroma. “This is an expression that we use to describe oils of high aromatic complexity, which strongly touch our olfactory sense,” said Marques. “It is one of the characteristics most appreciated by judges in great contests. That’s why Irarema’s Intense olive oil has been so successful”.
This worldwide recognition encouraged the business owners, who expanded their operation. Today, Irarema farm has become a tourist attraction, with a restaurant, a cafeteria, a cosmetics shop – all produced from olives -, guided tours and, of course, olive oil tasting. Before the pandemic, the farm used to welcome 500 people every weekend. The entrance is free and visitors pay only for what they consume. With this, the whole family started to work on olive oil.
While Moacir Dias takes care of the production and his father, Mauricio, is in charge of the farm administration, his mother, Monica, 61, manages the cosmetics shop. And there are also the two sisters: Gabriela, 40, runs the restaurant and the cafeteria; Lídia, 38, the confectioner, makes sweets, pies and cakes sold on the site. By Mauricio’s calculations, he has already invested around R$ 5 million on the business, including the purchase of machinery, equipment, tractors, and inputs. “We haven’t recovered the investment yet”, said the patriarch of the family. “But this has never been my goal. I set up all this to place a good product on the market and, most of all, to leave a legacy to my children and grandchildren”. It seems that the legacy is guaranteed.
From the Mediterranean to the world
Olive oil has been present in man’s life for very long. Archaeological discoveries indicate that the first producers lived in Syria, in the region bathed by the Mediterranean Sea, about 5,000 years ago. Not by chance, the words for olive oil, aceite in Spanish, or azeite in Portuguese, are of Arabic origin – they come from the word “az-zait”, which means “olive juice”. Since its origin, it conquered the planet, and today it is produced in over 60 countries, generating about 35 million jobs and moving 13 billion Euros. Countries such as South Africa, Croatia, New Zealand, and Uruguay are gaining strength year by year, in addition to traditional countries like Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal.
Brazil is still a beginner in the subject of oil, with the first extraction having been made only 12 years ago, in 2008, in the state of Minas Gerais. On the other hand, it has already won respect in the international market. “Brazilian olive oil has very typical characteristics, with notes that surprise the great experts – such as floral and tropical fruits – and high complexity,” said olivologist Sandro Marques, author of the book Extrafresco: The Guide for Olive Oils in Brazil. In Brazil, production has been increasing year after year. In 2019, 160,000 liters of Brazilian olive oil were produced, twice as many as five years ago. “The most important thing is that oil quality has also improved a lot,” said Marques.