Interview with José Manuel Prieto.
José Manuel owns and manages, together with his brother Javier, Pago Las Monjas Olive Oil Mill in Montoro (Córdoba).
Pago las Monjas oil mill has been chosen the best of Spain in 2018 by the Spanish Association of Municipalities of Olivo (AEMO).
They built the mill in 2015, although the exploitation on which the oil mill is based belongs to their family since 1850.
Both José Manuel and his brother Javier took the Olive Oil School of Spain Master Miller Course when they were developing their Project.
Since 2017, we develop specialised training at their mill. In February 2019, we will be helding at their installations our Olive Grove Management Course.
You have received the award for the Best Olive Oil Mill 2017/18 What does this recognition mean to you?
For a company like us, with only 3 campaigns of history, this recognition is a huge moral boost.
As you know, we are a family business and we manage everything by ourselves. Therefore, this award is very important for us. It helps us to set more ambitious goals. We feel that our efforts are being rewarded and that the path that we have taken is the right one.
On the other hand, we are the first Olive Oil Mill in Montoro that pursues highest quality in our products as company policy.
We now feel that this”top quality policy” is giving its fruits and this motivates us to continue following this pathway, especially in our region, Montoro, which is recognized for its oils since Roman time.
Your oil mill was inaugurated in 2015. How long did the process last since the idea was born until you saw the first drop of olive oil coming out of your mill?
It took almost two years. The worst thing was the bureaucracy, but after a lot of struggle with the different administrations, we could see how the first drop of oil came out of our centrifuge on November 18, 2015.
It was one of the most incredible moments in our lifes. My brother and I cried like two children with emotion. Every year, when the first spurts of our Early Black Nevadillo come out, the tears come to our eyes. There are many efforts during the year, which culminate when the oil is in our cellar.
What would you say were the three main difficulties to make the inauguration of the oil mill a reality?
First, the bureaucracy, without a doubt.
In our country the administration is excessively slow. This makes it very difficult to open new businesses, especially if they are seasonal, as in the case of an oil mill.
Second, the lack of financial support from the administrations. There are very few helps for entrepreneurs and/ or there are very difficult to get. We had to assemble our Olive Oil Mill without financial help of any kind.
Finally, and in line with the second, the difficulty to find private funding for this type of project.
Banks in 2014-2015 were still very reluctant to make loans for this type of businesses. We were lucky to find Cajamar and we were able to get financing and facilities according to our needs.
Before starting the construction of the oil mill, the two partners involved in the project participated as students in our Master Miller course. At that time, the course took place more than 500 kilometers from your home. Was this training important for you?
Attending the course was key to size our business model. We wanted to set up a modern oil mill, but it was after completing the course when we knew that our choice was pursuing quality.
We did not know to what extent it is important to clean the facilities and a good classification of the fruit to obtain good extra virgin olive oils.
Surely if we had not done this course, we would not be talking now about our awards and prizes and we would be just another common olive oil factory.
What three tips would you give to someone intending to build an olive oil mill?
The first thing is to ask yourself: Where do I want to go?, What kind of oil do I want to make? and… How do I want to do it? These questions are crucial to size the mill.
Secondly… building an olive mill takes time. Rush is not good. You have to study everything thoroughly and, if, as is our case, you want maximum quality, ask yourself many times “How can I get this completely cleaned?”. Cleaning is 50% of the quality of the oil, or even more.
Finally, they should get very well trained. They should take professional courses and visit many mills. The more, the better. The intention is not to copy, but to learn from the mistakes, successes and advice from experienced entrepreneurs and master millers.
We were lucky to deal with people that opened the doors of their several oil mills and showed us their tricks and secrets.
Read more about the Master Miller & Olive Grove Management Courses here