Antonio José Pradas Díaz

Oil Master Miller at the associated cooperative San Isidro de Gilena (Seville).

In spite of his youth, he has a long experience in the olive oil industry. As is usually recommended in management manuals, in these fourteen years he has gone through a multitude of positions and has performed all the tasks linked to the extraction of extra virgin olive oil. “This has given me a very global vision of how an oil mill works,” Antonio José tells us. As is usual in these cases, he started his professional activity from the bottom, as a factory worker, helping and learning from previous masters. His training in mechanics and his previous work in the surrounding quarries as a maintenance technician has been very useful in his new role as oil master mill, a responsibility he shares with his partner Lola.

“I consider that we make a good tandem, as her extensive training in the valorization of extra virgin olive oils, complements very well with my interest in machines. In short, I prefer to concentrate my efforts on having the machinery in optimal conditions to achieve the highest quality olive juice,” Antonio José confesses.

During the harvest campaign, his coordination with his partner Lola is total, adjusting schedules so that “all the work is done, all the olives are milled and the mill is sparkling clean to attend to the olive deliveries on a new day of the campaign period. We both share the eagerness for cleanliness, as we consider it to be a key factor in obtaining top quality oils”.

Once the campaign is over, the period of maintenance and improvement of the different elements that make up the mill begins. At this point he emphasizes the important bet of the current board of directors for the modernization of the infrastructure, which will allow them to inaugurate new facilities for the mill in the new campaign “in which we incorporate the latest technology in milling, beating, centrifuging and decanting”, he comments enthusiastically.

Although he has extensive training in mechanics, he knows that his strength lies in his knowledge of the organoleptic characteristics of the oils, which is why he has been combining his daily work with an EVOO tasting course given by Oleoestepa as part of its Continuous Training Program for the past few weeks.

“I know that we are a young team, perhaps not as experienced as other associated mills, but we make up for it with great enthusiasm and dedication to obtain top quality juices” confesses Antonio José at the end of the interview.

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Carmen Mª Rubio Linares

Accounting at the associated cooperative Agrícola La Roda (Seville).

Although her beginnings in the cooperative were not very stable, “with a temporary contract of practices just finished the career” says Carmen Maria, her desire to learn and contribute to the development of the cooperative have made more than 12 years that she has been performing tasks of administration and accounting.

This sector has always attracted her attention since her childhood has been closely linked to the countryside. “There are several generations in my family linked to agriculture, so we know what it is like to work the land,” he confesses.

Looking back, he emphasizes how the modernization and incorporation of the latest management technology has greatly facilitated the tasks in the administrative area, also allowing to do it faster. If we also add the continuous changes in regulations, “we find ourselves in a job that requires us to be always up to date”.

In spite of being a sector that is mostly men, even more so when she started, she has always felt like one of the others, without distinctions. “I have learned and continue to learn from my colleagues, just as they have learned from me. We are a great team in this cooperative,” confesses Carmen María.

Although she sees more and more women at the head of farms, as managers, olive weighers, oil mill managers, laboratory managers, etc., she believes that women still have a long way to go in the governance of cooperatives. In fact, she tells us that at the last General Assembly of members the female presence was 5%. In spite of this, her vision is optimistic, hoping to see soon an active participation of women in the Assemblies and the Governing Council of the cooperative”, says Carmen María with hope.

She recommends the new generations not to lose their enthusiasm and to enjoy this sector. Although from the outside it may seem the opposite, the rural and cooperative world is very dynamic and demands to be up to date. “I know that young people are impulsive, but you have to be patient and learn from each day, in fact, each campaign is a new course from which you always learn something,” she confesses.

Since she was a child she has been closely linked to the harvesting of the fruit, so she knew perfectly well what happened from the time the olives germinated and ripened until they were taken to the cooperative. But what was truly amazing for Carmen was to discover the next step, how the olives entered the mill and ended up producing the liquid gold.

Among her personal experiences, she highlights the impression she had (and continues to have campaign after campaign) with the first aromas given off by the conveyor belts transporting freshly harvested olives in the unloading area, “the smells of fig leaves, tomato, fresh grass, etc. come together. What surprised him the most was to be able to differentiate all the fruity nuances in an olive”.

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Felipe Gómez Arjona

Oil Master Miller at the associated cooperative Olivarera de Pedrera (Seville).

His professional life is closely linked to this cooperative since, despite his youth, he has been working in it for 18 years. “The first years I was dedicated to weighing the olives in the reception area of the mill, but in the fourth campaign I was given the opportunity to work as a teacher and I didn’t turn it down,” Felipe recalls.

The first years as a master were tutored by the senior oil master miller, who taught him all the secrets and tricks to get the best out of the machinery available at the time. Felipe confesses that “now things have changed a lot since then and practically everything is different, looking back I realize that I have lived through all the great changes that this cooperative has undergone since its origin”. For example, the same year he started working in the cooperative they added a new line of work and he was the first to use the new weighing system. “Until today, when we have the best technology for the extraction of the olive juice, we have lived a technological revolution within these walls,” Felipe points out.

So much innovation in machinery and processes has made continuous training essential. For this reason, throughout this time he has not missed any training opportunity to keep abreast of the latest developments in the sector. In this aspect, he values very positively the training courses for oil master miller that Oleoestepa periodically develops, which they try to attend together with the whole team of the mill. In addition to these courses, he considers it essential to deepen the knowledge of sensory analysis by masters. “To know if we are getting an extra virgin olive oil of the highest quality, it is essential to have a broad knowledge of how to taste, to identify attributes and defects in the juice obtained,” Felipe confesses.

His daily activity in the mill throughout the year is divided into two moments: during the campaign and outside of it. Usually from October to January are the most difficult and stressful months, since the continuous and detailed supervision must be permanent. “The pressure is important because a single mistake can ruin an entire tank in the winery,” Felipe points out.

Outside the campaign, his activity is focused on the maintenance and improvement of all the industrial components of the mill, so that “we can start the next campaign on the right foot and without any surprises”.

In his opinion, a key factor in achieving top quality olive juice lies in an adequate selection of the olives in the reception area. “Having several extraction lines allows us to classify the olives according to variety and condition, achieving oils with very homogeneous profiles.” And Felipe adds that “what comes bad we can do very little with them, more than put them together and separate them from the rest. It is better to concentrate on what is good, to extract the juice with the best possible qualities”. To do this, he believes that “time is money” and that the olives should be milled immediately after reception and preparation.

In more than 20 years that he has been in the cooperative he has had time to live infinite anecdotes, but what surprises him most is how everything has changed and the way of working in the mill, concluding in this respect that “unlike what the consumer usually thinks, technology is our great ally”.

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