On our first ever visit to Alentejo, Portugal, we meet a local olive oil producer whose unusual methods have created a brand (Azeite Amor é Cego) that truly reflects his love and passion for his land and heritage.

I was transfixed as I stood before a gnarled olive tree in Alentejo, Portugal. This particular one was said to be approximately 2,000 years old.

To the untrained eye, a tree is just a tree until someone informs you of its age. Then, suddenly, the tree ceases to be ordinary and immediately becomes an embodiment of history to which reverence is the only appropriate reaction.

“When I started making olive oil using my methods, people thought I was crazy,” he said.

No…this wasn’t the tree talking to me, although I wish it would! At that moment, I longed to know its deepest darkest secrets. I wanted to know everything it had ever witnessed. I wanted it to transport me back in time to meet whichever ancient ancestor planted and nurtured its first seed. How did it survive?

Instead, it was the voice of João Rosado, the proprietor of Monte da Oliveira Velha, an olive oil estate located 17 km from Évora, the capital of Portugal’s south-central Alentejo region. 

João is also the producer of Azeite Amor é Cego, a 100% extra virgin olive oil brand.

The man, the olive grove and his olive oil – all held a fascination whose surface we could only scratch on this very brief visit. 

Alentejo, Portugal

The clouds had turned into a light drizzle and so we stepped away from the ancient tree and headed inside a beautiful little cottage set in the middle of this 62-year-old olive grove.

“Do you rent this cottage out for short holidays?” I had asked João when we initially entered, welcome glass of wine in hand.

“No! Never!” he said. As our conversation continued, I later understood the reason for this emphatic stance.

It was our first time ever in Alentejo, Portugal’s rural hinterland. 

Having already visited different parts of Portugal including Porto, Lisbon, the Algarve, Madeira, and Porto Santo, the Alentejo is a region we’d heard very little about and had yearned to visit for ages. 

This particular post-lockdown visit to Portugal seemed to have an agricultural theme to it. 

Just that morning, we’d done the three hour drive from Faro where we had spent three days living in the middle of a vast orange plantation. Therefore, it only seemed natural to round up our trip with some more agro-tourism.

Alentejo is regarded as Portugal’s centre of agriculture and breadbasket. Wine, meat (presunto), cork, olive oil and cheese are some of the major products from the region.

Driving north and inland from the coastal Algarve, the landscape changes significantly. Thick lush vegetation turns into sparse hills before eventually turning into mostly flat and rugged terrain with a seemingly endless number of cork trees (Portugal is the world’s leading producer of cork). 

After driving past a few small towns, a narrow dirt road took us off the highway and towards Monte da Oliveira Velha.

“Did you know that around 80% of Portugal’s population lives in the bigger cities?” João asked? 

João had been explaining how scarce it was to source labour in this part of the country. Évora’s population is approximately 56,596, roughly a tenth of Lisbon’s 506,000.

“We rely on friends and family during harvest season to pick everything by hand,” João said.

“However, we are proud of our socially responsible approach to sourcing labour, although it presents some difficulty for us because we have only eight hours between the picking of the olives and the time they are pressed. We can’t afford any downtime.”

Amor é Cego – Love is Blind

There is an interesting story behind the name of João’s olive oil brand.

His grandfather originally bought the land and planted olives as a way to supplement the family income. Over three generations, the family had simply farmed olives until João and his wife, both local school teachers, decided to venture into olive oil production.

The Monte da Oliveira Velha estate has 231 olive trees planted over 5 hectares, including a few thousand-year old ones dotting the plantation. Their annual olive oil production capacity is around 400 litres. This low yield makes it one of the smaller holdings in a region which accounts for almost 75% of Portugal’s olive oil production.

“My grandfather planted his trees around 12 meters apart when he started. That was fine when all he was doing was selling the raw olives. However, when it comes to commercial, super-intensive olive oil production, the trees must be planted around 1 meter apart.”

“I refuse to do this,” João was emphatic. “This is one reason why people think I’m crazy!”

By this point in the conversation, we had begun to get an insight into his philosophy. This middle-aged teacher-turned-farmer had a fire in his eyes that revealed that there was more to this story.

“When we were searching for a brand identity, with the help of an award-winning design agency, we hit on a brilliant idea,” he said.

“Because of our unusual production methods and focus on quality over profit, they claimed we were blinded by our love. So, they came up with the name ‘Amor é Cego’ meaning ‘love is blind’ in Portuguese.”

Coincidentally, in a town near Évora, there is a popular clay sculpture of a blindfolded female dancer signifying the blindness of love. 

The label designers (Rita Rivotti) decided to incorporate this artwork into the Azeite Amor é Cego olive oil brand. The design went on to win ‘Best Label’ in the 2021 Olio Nuovo Competition.

Quality over profit

You can take the teacher out of the classroom but you can’t eliminate the teacher’s desire to educate. João went on to explain his approach and methods.

“Not only do we deliberately keep the number of trees low, we work with what mother nature gives us. We rely on natural irrigation to increase the quality of the olives,” he said.

They use no artificial fertilisers and have managed to achieve organic certification for the farm. The trees are pruned in early spring to increase yield. The olives are harvested early (when they are still green) before they fully mature to produce the highest quality raw olive oil, typically in October.

Azeite Amor é Cego is made from 100% Galega olives, a major variety in Portugal. 

“We do not blend our olives with other varieties,” he proudly explained.

We also learned about their cold extraction method which preserves the original taste and aroma of olive oil. More commercial ventures extract at higher temperatures to realise more yield.

‘Love is blind’ but it tastes so good

Our ‘Premium Olive Oil Farm Experience’ included an olive oil tasting event.

“Ceremonial olive oil tasting doesn’t require bread,” João stated in his introduction. 

“OK, no bread then,” we thought.

He poured out the oil from a small bottle into blue-coloured tasting cups – designed to intentionally make the oil’s colour ambiguous so that your senses focus on taste.

Holding the cup in the palm of one hand and pressing the lid firmly with the other, we were instructed to rapidly twist the cup in 90-degree increments and then swirl for a further 30 seconds. It turns out that 28 degrees Celsius (approximately 82℉) is the ideal temperature to truly release the taste and aroma of olive oil.

“Remove the lid and lift the cup up to your nose. You should be looking for a smell similar to freshly cut grass,” our teacher said.

The earthy and herbaceous aroma was unlike anything we had smelled before.

We then took a sip, coating our mouths with the oil and then inhaling some air through pursed lips, a tricky thing to do without dribbling like a baby.

“The oxygen should combine with the oil to create a peppery sensation at the back of your throat. The more the sensation, the higher the oil quality,” he said.

The oil’s aroma was a precursor to its delicate, fruity and truly exquisite taste!

HDYTI Tip: In a sealed, unopened bottle, good quality olive oil can retain its quality and freshness for up to two years. Once opened, use it within 2 to 3 months to get the best out of it.

For the love of the land…

João’s limited production means that bottles of Amor é Cego are in high demand and limited supply. At around 10 Euros per bottle, this extra virgin olive oil is a bargain.

“People think I’m crazy because I’m not inflating my prices for this level of quality,” João told us.

Surrounded by super-intensive olive oil farmers and producers, Amor é Cego is certainly exceptional for the principled approach of its owners.

“We do what we do for the love of the land and to preserve the quality of the product,” João concluded on our way out.

Back at the 2,000 year-old tree, reflecting on our experience, João threw in one last story of a wealthy customer who had heard about the ancient tree and wanted to buy and transport it to the Middle East. Unsurprisingly, this big-money offer was met with João’s typical reluctance to disrupt the soul, history and heritage of this land.

For this eccentric Alentejo farmer, a good reputation appears to be more important than great wealth. His passionate love for his land and product may be truly blind…but it tastes so good!

Booking your Portugal Farm Experience

Our ‘Premium Olive Oil Farm Experience’ for two adults (including taxes and fees) cost us 52.44 Euros. To book an agricultural tourism experience in Portugal, email hello@portugalfarmexperiences.com or visit Portugalfarmexperience.com.

Book a visit to Monte da Oliveira Velha at azeiteamorecego.pt/en. Follow this link to Google Maps for directions.

The Monte da Oliveira Velha estate also hosts olive oil tastings and 5-course tasting menu in partnership with the Tua Madre restaurant in the summer. However, places are limited and go very quickly!


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Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).