You know those times when you feel totally inadequate and just want to curl up in a ball and roll away from all reality and responsibility. Thursday night salsa dancing at San Miguel’s La Hacienda de Guadalupe is one for me. From the waist up, my body mostly co-operates if I ask it to go one direction or the other. But below the waist, it just won’t listen. So on Thursdays, when guys older than I am have one hand in the small of a woman named Victoria’s back, I’m down the street at Hank’s with one hand on a Victoria’s neck saying, “I might just be sashaying up to Guadalupe for a rumba after one, possibly two more beers”.
There’s another scene that is just as exasperating. Food isn’t just something I eat. Food is, after friends and family, the most important thing in my life. So, unlike the salsa that covers the floor with dancers, I should be very comfortable with almost any salsa that covers my food. But I’m not. Especially when one of its ingredients includes olive oil.
Put yourself in this scene. You’re standing in a supermarket and on the shelves in front of you are 28 different olive oils.
“OK, I know I should only buy extra virgin but, wait a minute, 26 are labelled extra virgin. Aah, this one says it’s cold pressed with no chemicals but, if I remember right, in order to call it extra virgin, all oil must be cold pressed without chemicals. I’ll buy Italian, they’re famous for their fine olive oils but, wait another minute, didn’t I read that most Italian olive oil is actually made from foreign olives. OK, I’ll buy the one in the fancy, long-necked bottle, the one from the company that hired a chi-chi designer to do their label…hold on, that 250 ml bottle costs more than the 500 ml bottle beside it.”
So which one to buy? How about none of them. How about, instead, I purchase a bottle of Mexican olive oil, made from locally grown fruit, made by people that I know and trust.
Susan Chamberlin and Victor Gutierrez own an olive farm that, as the crow flies, is only about 5 km from Centro in San Miguel de Allende. As the car drives, you’ll clock up twice as many clicks getting there, but, if you do, you may spend one of the best afternoons or evenings possible in San Miguel de Allende.
Susan and Victor are, like Don Day, survivors of the ad biz who came to San Miguel about twenty years ago and settled on a four hectare site they call Finca Luna Serena.
Victor told me, “In 2014, we decided to focus primarily on olive oil and olive products to complement the growing wine industry in San Miguel de Allende and nearby municipalities, so we learned the intricacies of harvesting and pressing olives. In 2015, we began marketing and selling the products and opened a country store at the farm.”
“In addition, we increased our olive grove substantially. We now have nearly 1800 trees ranging in age from 2 to 20 years old.”
Now you could just go to that country store (it’s only about ten minutes from the Luciernaga…or as most people call it…the Liverpool Mall) and buy a bottle of olive oil but there’s a better way.
Instead, go there and experience Victor and Susan’s Mediterranean Tasting Menu and come home with, not just a bottle or two of some extraordinarily good local olive oil but a lot more knowledge about olives and a lot more appreciation of how good dishes made with olives can be.
Now selecting that bottle or two of oil while you’re there won’t be as difficult a decision as it is in a supermarket but it still won’t be a breeze. What you will have the chance to do is take in a presentation and a tasting so you can then make a much more informed choice.
Susan Chamberlin is a Certified Olive Oil Sommelier, a graduate of the first class given in the United States at the International Culinary Center in New York. She told me, “We love to impart our knowledge to people that truly are interested in knowing about olive oil and consume it regularly.”
Finca Luna Serena currently has five artesanal oils and seven others that are infused with secondary flavors.
“All our oil is made from fresh olives, meaning that they are processed as quickly as possible after picking, usually within 24 hours”, said Victor. “We use both manual and mechanical processes for extracting the oil. There is no heat or steam in the extracting process and we do not use any chemicals. The low filtration gives our oil a distinct thickness and taste.”
“The best olive oil is the one that each person likes”, continued Victor. “We all have different tastes and each olive oil will taste a little different to each person.”
Don Day’s Wife likes to have two different unflavored oils in the cupboard: One made from barely ripe, green olives with a very robust, peppery taste; the second made with riper olives that’s more mellow, buttery and sweet. Finca Luna Sirena’s Olio Nuovo is a great choice for that greener taste that almost burns your throat, the kind you want to dip and double dip your baguette into. Finca Luna Sirena’s Reserva Privada is a softer taste, the one you might want to use if you make that bread into crostini.
The other three unflavored oils that Finca Luna Sirena presses and bottles are based on specific olive varieties. Reserva Especial is a blend of two Italian olives, Frantoio and Coratina. Arbequina is a single variety oil from the Spanish olive of the same name. Manzanilla is made from the Spanish Manzanillo olive.
“Manzanillo is more frequently used as a table olive but makes an excellent grassy oil”, Susan told me.
If you don’t want the total olive experience at Finca Luna Serena, you can simply purchase their oils and olives as well as their vinegars and other products inside The Opal Mine at Hernandez Macias 99 or at Finca Luna Serena’s new location in Mercado Sano, Ancha de San Antonio 123 in San Miguel de Allende.
If you do want to experience the farm and taste Susan Chamberlin’s fine cuisine, an opportune time to do it is at Olive Fest, a tour, dinner and presentation of Finca Luna Serena’s olives and oils with a portion of the proceeds going to Audubon Mexico’s school gardens program. Here are details:
Thursday, June 13
4:30 pm to 8:00 pm (meet at the bank, BBVA, at Luciernaga Mall at 4:00 pm for carpooling to Finca Luna Serena)
Leek Green Olive Sultana Pissaladiere
Green Olive Pinwheels
Feta, Oregano, Olive Salad
Green Olive Soup
Main Course Buffet
Cocoa Cured Leg of Lamb with Olive Pear Relish
Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Olives
Cod Fish with Tomatoes, Olives and Capers
Olive Oil Ice Cream
Beer, wine and soft drinks included
Audubon members and companion: 900 pesos per person
Non-members: 1000 pesos
Space is limited. If there is still room, you will receive a confirmation email. If the event is already full, you will receive a regrets email.
If you are unable to attend Olive Fest, the farm at Finca Luna Serena is open for private visits including lunch for groups of four or more. To make an appointment, email Victor and Susan at email@example.com