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Olive oil from the Huasco Valley: Mediterranean tradition in the desert

Wine and olive oil are the quintessential elements of the Mediterranean climate and lifestyle. Today I want to talk about this wonderful product of nature and travel with you to the Garden of Atacama. Let’s get to discover this corner of Chile and cook together a simple and healthy meal.

By Ania Smolec / June 21, 2018
Wine Journalist

Liquid gold

Like most things that fascinate me in life, only to mention wine or philosophy, also olive oil it has its roots in the Mediterranean. The Peloponnese has been covered with olive trees for 5,000 years. In popular traditions and beliefs, the olive tree was a symbol of peace, fertility, strength, purity and wisdom. Not for nothing the winners of the Olympic Games were crowned with olive branches.

Aceite de oliva 1In antiquity, olive oil was not only the pride of the table, but above all a commodity. The so-called “liquid gold” was the basis of the economy of Crete during the Minoan era. It was used to heal wounds, muscle aches and skin diseases; to illuminate the old chambers – up to the present time oil lamps can be found in Greece in the sanctuaries of the roads; and, above all, to propagate art. Can you imagine an oil painting without the oils to dilute the pigments?

Mysterious landscape

In the Huasco Valley, located in what is known as the Atacama Desert, the oldest tradition of olive oil production in Chile subsists and is celebrated, which has been almost 500 years since the Spaniards introduced the first olive trees to the American continent.

Its provincial capital is the city of Vallenar, which has various tourist services. From Vallenar to the coast, you can visit old agricultural haciendas, accessing Humedal del Río Huasco, close to beautiful beaches of yellow sands. You can also enjoy a unique show, when the desert blooms from July, giving us a multiplicity of colors that contrast with this ocher and nostalgic landscape.

Desierto floridoAt a distance of about two hours from Vallenar, you will find the Llanos de Challe National Park and its beautiful cacti and wild guanacos, as well as the colorful local tradition inherited from the Diaguita culture. For lovers of food, this region offers two great treasures: olives and olive oil.

Garden that blooms

A valley of olive trees in the driest place on the planet? So is. When the maritime influence and the Huasco River meet, the desert retreats to form an oasis called the Garden of Atacama. There grow old olive trees that today have denomination of origin. As recent studies show, olive oil from the Huasco Valley, thanks to solar irradiation and the marked temperature differences between day and night, accumulates very high levels of antioxidants. These particular climatic conditions have also encouraged some wine producers that today experiment with the terroir of Huasco.

It cannot be healthier

Today there is full awareness that wine is a wonderful antioxidant and a blessing to the circulatory system, but olive oil is a pharmacy in every drop. Prevents and reduces the risk of various types of cancer and also heart disease. As some studies show, it reduces bad cholesterol, dilates cell aging and contributes to the health of the central nervous system and brain cells.

Aceite de Oliva 2

How to choose olive oil?

The noblest olive oils are called extra virgin, with their olives cold-pressed and unrefined. How to taste them? As in the case of wine, we have to evaluate its flavor, aroma and texture, but most of all we have to be very attentive to defects, such as oxidation or rancidity and excessive sediments. Some aromas and flavors that warn us when something is wrong: acetone, cheese, seawater, smoked bacon, ardor, cucumber, manure, wet wood, grease, mud, vinegar, yeast, etc.

In a small glass, heat the oil with your hands to reveal its aromas. Then smell, taste and evaluate. An excellent olive oil is a party in the nose and mouth. It can give us notes of green apples, almonds, artichoke, banana, flowers, forest, grass, leaves, fruits, green tea, herbs, melon, mint, pears, peppers, peaches, tomato leaves, nuts and wood. In the mouth, we have to feel a perfect harmony between astringency of the “tannins”, bitterness, creaminess, freshness, sweetness and spices. A fresh sensation, sometimes very spicy, mature and with silky curves.

The taste of the table

Each olive oil producing country offers us wonderful ideas to incorporate this product into our daily cooking. A classic is the fresh Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and feta cheese, which I recommend with Casillero del Diablo Chardonnay, or else, the Chilean salad of tomatoes with onion, which is perfect with Casillero del Diablo Rosé. In beautiful Italy, they conquer us with a piece of bread with garlic, olive oil and sea salt. What simplicity! This sandwich screams for the wine. For a light and juicy red like Casillero del Diablo Carmenere.

pasta Devils BrutSometimes people tell me that they would like to throw themselves into the kitchen, but they feel that they have neither the talent nor the time to do it. I always answer them: more than talent, cooking is about passion. It is not necessary to start with dishes that are too complicated. Just cook a tasty pasta al dente, season it with olive oil, salt and pepper, and a good handful of Parmesan cheese. You already have a great dish ready. You just need to uncork Casillero del Diablo Devil’s Collection Brut.

I love collecting recipes based on olive oil, and believe me, we can include this product in soups, stews, sauces and cakes. My favorite oil cake is called Ciambellone ‘olio. We only need: 1 cup of olive oil, 1 cup of sugar, 4 eggs, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, one lemon zest, one drop of vanilla, 1.5 glasses of wheat flour and 1.5 glasses of flour of potato. Mix everything (first the yolks of the eggs are added and at the end the foam of the whites). And to a preheated oven for 30 minutes. The truth? Simply, delicious.

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