Olive Oil Tasting in Uruguay

Day 20, Grand World Voyage 2020

Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020; Punta del Este, Uruguay

When Anthony Bourdain traveled the world for his No Reservations show on CNN, he usually found time to gather with friends old and new around a table — eating, drinking and laughing. These are some of my favorite scenes.

Today I thought the only thing missing at our table was Tony, as his friends called him. We gathered around a square table under a shade tree at a boutique olive oil processing estate in the hills of Uruguay. As the culmination of our tour, we sampled olive oils from the estate, complementing them with wine, bread, cheese and salami. Below us was a field of lavender, a lily pad pond and rolling hills with olive orchards, vineyards and grazing cattle.

We were less than an hour from our port of Punta del Este, known as the St. Tropez of Uruguay. Miles of beautiful beaches stretch along both sides of the long peninsula. Tall modern condos, apartments, mansions and hotels form the spine between the beaches. The rich and famous of Argentina, Brazil and other South American countries vacation here in the high season of summer.

This area of Uruguay also shares a similar climate as Spain and Italy, so we went looking for olive trees near the tiny town of Pueblo Edén on the Lote 8 estate.

After describing the short history of olive cultivation in Uruguay, estate manager Martin showed us the trees that delivered a bounty crop last year. Unfortunately, this year these trees have produced very few olives, and he is struggling to determine why. My marketing instincts credit him with hosting tours and other events at the estate to fill in during the lean years.

Olive oil production takes place in March, so we didn’t see the modern facility in operation. Martin walked us through the process that starts with separating that day’s harvested olives from stems and leaves through eventually separating oil from the solids and pits. As the estate business grows, new machinery eases tasks such as bottling.

Lote 8 only produces extra virgin olive oil, under a couple of brands. Because production is small, not much is exported. Of course, we are exporting a couple of bottles to take home.

The best way to sample the olive oils is to sip it directly. I could taste the almost fruity notes of the smooth oil. The intense oil left a warm touch in the back of my throat. Almost all of us preferred the special olive oil made in smaller batches. So that’s what we are bringing home.

After returning to Punta del Este, we only had time to drive by the beaches and highlights. One of the most famous is a sculpture on Playa Brava, the ocean side beach, commemorating those who drowned in the seas.

Our port call was short, ending with a mid afternoon sail away so we will have time to arrive in Buenos Aires tomorrow morning.

I think this is a place I would love to visit for a couple of weeks.