The Superb Olive Oil of Mariano Sanz

Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews

New harvest oil “Teresa Arrojo” arrives from western Spain

Nelson Mandela once said, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” Mariano Sanz Pech did exactly that. He set out to save traditional Spanish cheese. The disconnection and despair that came out of the industrial revolution is not limited to the United States. By the 1980s, around the time we were opening the Deli, it was playing havoc with centuries of agricultural tradition in Spain. In much the same way that Major Patrick Rance, who I wrote about a few months ago, saved traditional British cheese from extinction, so too did Mariano make an enormous difference. In addition, Mariano went out into the countryside of Western Spain to work a small farm with his family. Over many years they’ve crafted a diverse, organic ecosystem and a reconnection to the land of the sort that Severine von Tscharner Fleming would probably appreciate.

I’ve known Mariano Sanz Pech, the man who makes this distinctive oil, for nearly 30 years now. He’s a wonderful person and staunch champion of traditional foods. We first met over a table of traditional Spanish cheeses—then, and still now—one of his big causes. Standing about 5-foot-9 with a well-trimmed salt and pepper beard, wire-rimmed glasses, and a collection of colorful bow ties, his energy really does seem to fill any room. To find Mariano’s farm on the map, start at Madrid, in the middle of the Iberian Peninsula, then move your finger due west until you spot the ridges of the Sierra De Gata Mountains. The oil is a family project—it’s formally named for his wife, Teresa, and his daughters Mar and Xoanna as well as their families, play a prominent part, as well. It’s made from the unique-to-this-area Manzanilla Cacereña olive, a big contributor to the excellence of the oil. No actual pressing is done to make the oil—the hand picked olives are gently crushed, and then the oil drips from them slowly only by force of gravity (that other, well known, Natural Law). The process decreases yield, but increases the oil’s delicacy.

The Sanz family’s new harvest from the fall of 2020 has just arrived, and I’ve been enjoying it at home for the last few weeks! So now, in the spirit of Natural Law #18, let me make the connection. It’s delicate and delicious, organic and outstanding, exceptionally flavorful, but gentler with just a soft touch of pepper in the finish. Mariano’s oil is a bit like great classical guitar playing—not overpowering, but nevertheless, marvelously memorable for its grace and impossible-to-forget melodies. It’s got a gentle bit of banana, a lovely sweetness and a fine long finish. The current, very limited edition, 2022 harvest tastes particularly terrific. It’s made from the Manzanilla Cacereña olive, which is unique to the area—it’s a big contributor to the excellence of the oil. The oil is delicate and delicious. Exceptionally flavorful, but gentle with just a soft touch of pepper in the finish. This year’s is a bit rounder and even more compelling and complex than usual. Mariano’s oil is a bit like the guitar playing of Nick Drake—not overpowering, but nevertheless, deeply moving, and marvelously memorable for its grace and impossible-to-forget melodies.

The oil is remarkable on toasted Paesano bread or freshly broiled fish. I’ve been making lovely salads of local lettuces, a little grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Manchego sprinkled over top, a few toasted Spanish almonds, a bit of flore di sale sea salt, and a good amount of freshly ground Tellicherry black pepper, all dressed with a sprinkle of good vinegar and some of Mariano’s oil. Simple, elegant, easy to make, and excellent. The oil is also a particularly good pairing with fruit—drizzle some onto slices of ripe apples or pears. Better yet, toss the fruit with the oil and roast it at about 450°F until the fruit is cooked through. Serve it with cheese, a glass of dessert wine, or even gelato from the Creamery.

In one of those strange circular connections that can happen with high frequency in the age of the internet, I Googled “Mariano Sanz” to see what I’d find. A page or so in I found a recipe on the site of The Splendid Table that referenced Mariano—a salad with fresh orange slices and olive oil. I was intrigued so I opened the link and skimmed through the page. When I got to the bottom, I shook my head and smiled. The recipe, it said, was “Adapted from Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating.”

> Shop Mariano’s Oil online for Deli pickup or local delivery