Today we share the story of one of the creators of Chilean Olive Oil: Marco Antonio Rojas Roble, Agricultural Manager of Olivícola Valle Grande
Read our interview with him below to get a glimpse into the lives of the people bringing Chilean Olive Oil into the world, and a personal view of Chile as a country.
Where are you from?
I was born in a small village close to Santiago called El Monte.
What do you do?
I’ve worked for Valle Grande, S.A., one of the first companies that started producing olive oil in Chile, for over ten years. Currently, the business has 800 hectares- 150 ha. in the metropolitan area, closet o Santiago, and 650 ha in the countryside of Coquimbo, the 4th district.
What is your favorite part of the work that you do?
I used to work in the vineyards and now I’m in the olive fields and what I love most about fruit-growing is that every year you have the opportunity to rediscover the life cycle, harvesting, then processing it over and over, it’s like being born again. There are always many expectations,and it’s been especially challenging with olive oil because it is such a new industry in Chile. We’ve had to be pioneers in many ways, and that’s always attractive professionally because you contribute a lot and feel very gratified. Many times I’m filled with doubt, but it’s been a great challenge. I think working in new areas is more motivating than working in fields where practically everything has already been solved.
Describe a typical day.
I start off my morning in the office, since my responsibilities also include administrative work. I deal with office issues, which basically means responding to emails. I spend the rest of the day in the field doing the work that needs to be done at that moment and I finish the day in the office doing administrative duties.
In my personal life, at home, I’m in charge of breakfast and then I take the kids to school. At work I try to satiate one of my current passions, which is to bike ride and train. In fact, sometimes I train during collation, since our field is bordered by a beautiful hill, which I enjoy. If not then, then I train at night, because I live in La Serena, which is a city on the ocean and I can ride down Avenida del Mar there, a very beautiful and well-lit place.
My wife and I have a very full family life; we make sure everyone eats together.And the weekends are absolutely devoted to family. We have a little daughter, and we just devote ourselves to her. We support our other children in all of their extracurricular activities, like sports. It’s a little harder to spend time with the family during harvest time, because the work days get a lot longer. But, the rest of the year we try to be with our kids.
Do any of your family members work in the fruit or olive industry? What is their job?
My wife, Maria Luz Hurtado, is the assistant manager in the same company as me. She’s in charge of the olive oil extraction process.
What makes Chilean Olive Oil special?
Chile stands out because of the climate of its valleys, which have perfect climate and soil conditions similar to the Meditarrean , and because it is a country naturally protected from plagues and diseases. In fact, Chile is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have the olive fly, which affects the quality of the oil.
What do you love most about Chile?
You always love the place you’re born, but I like having the mountain by the sea, enjoying something as marvelous as snow and also the ocean, within a small distance. Also, from north to south, I love the difference between the desert-like land and the more foresty land of the south.
I think that the people lack a drive and professionalism, but in this sense we’re still a developing country. I love happy, good people but wish we were more hardworking.
What do you like to eat your olive oil with?
In my house we don’t eat any oil but olive oil- everything is prepared with olive oil from the french fries (the rare times we have them) to all of the salads. Personally, I really like to cook Mediterranean cuisine, and I specialize in certain dishes, like pasta made out of flour and egg. Recently I’ve learned how to make risotto, which has made me famous. A recipe? I only copy already existing recipes, and since I apply myself and follow them to the letter, they turn out.
How can you tell the difference between high quality and regular extra virgin olive oil?
For the consumer the difference is in the aroma and the taste. An Extra Virgin Olive Oil should be fresh and green and have a slightly bitter, spicy taste. Regular olive oils always have a rancid smell and taste like regular table olives.
What’s the difference between olive oils produced in different parts of Chile?
We’ve seen differences that have to do with how the fruit in the north matures- more slowly, there’s not as much of a rush before the rains and cold come- so there are agronomical factores that one wants to manage and you can manage them.
Without a doubt, there are types of olives in the coldest that have a strong flavor profile, with lots of character, which is an advantage, from Santiago to the south.
But today the IV region is looking really good in terms of olive oil quality.
What are some good wines to pair with extra virgen olive oil?
I have a big passion for wine, especially for the agronomic handling of it, everything that’s associated with the wine expert Alvaro Espinoza. I’m a huge fan of his wines, from Coyam to Altiyal, which are his own.
I love the Santa Emma merlot, and the Amplus de Santa Emma wine, which is a Carignan and comes from vines plante don a slope more than 100 years ago in the Peumo zone, VI región. Also the Maycas Del Limari Syrah always surprises me, Tamaya wine, and Carmenere de Marquez de Casa Concha, probably the best wine I’ve even tried.
There’s a group of wine experts in Chile that I’m an admirer and follower of- Alvaro Espinoza, Marcelo Papa, and Marcelo Retamal.