The fruits of a decade-and-a half labor are now available through Rogers Collection: we have added our first Moroccan olive oil to our catalog. For Noor Fès, actualizing the vision of crafting traditional Moroccan olive oil has been a project filled with passion, scientific research… and lots of patience.
Noor Fès is a lush, 300-hectare olive estate on the Saïs Plain about 25 miles from the city of Fès in Morocco. Previously a colonial property, the estate is now owned by the Amor family, holding relics to the past such as an old cottage, a dovecote, cypress, pecan, fruit and evergreen trees. Fifteen years ago, Dakir–an in-law of the Amor family––left a career in finance to embark on revitalizing the estate and crafting traditional Moroccan olive oil like you would find 300 years ago.
Lisa, the Export Manager of Noor Fès, says, “After a retrospective on himself, his business, his future and the heritage he will leave to his children, [Dakir] decided to go back to the basics, to the earth. He found passion in agriculture and particularly in olive trees.”
Dakir planted ancient varieties of Picholine olive trees and built a modern olive mill for oil production. And then he waited, for twelve years, taking meticulous care of the trees. The average time for tree maturity in Spain, for example, is eight years.
It sounds simple—you plant trees and wait– but the process has been, in addition to lengthy, rather technical. Dakir took his background in finance and applied a similar scientific and mathematical approach to starting the olive groves. He worked for one year with the National Agronomic Institute of Morocco to select the most indigenous trees. Finally, he decided on two of the oldest types of Moroccan Picholine olive trees–with a third varietal of tree that helps with pollination. Dakir calculated the angle of the sun and mapped out the orchard leaving ample space between trees to allow for optimal sunlight to produce the best olives.
The first Noor Fès olive harvest and oil production was in 2018. “It was very good, but we wanted to improve,” says Lisa. After consulting with olive oil experts, they learned new techniques to improve their oil. And finally, thirteen years after they initially started the project, Noor Fès went on to win medals from Italy, Athens, Spain, and even the 2021 Gold Medal at the Italy International Olive Oil Contest (IOOC). Noor Fes is listed both in the Official Index of the World’s Best Olive Oils and in EVOOLEUM Spanish Olive Oil Guide’s top 100 best extra virgin olive oil for 2022.
It was important to Dakir to reach this point of quality, to achieve a traditional Moroccan olive oil while using socially responsible and sustainable farming practices such as water conservation—an issue of great concern in an area prone to drought and dramatic temperatures.
Noor Fès is blessed by its location near the Ain Blouz River fed from the Atlas Mountains and the Ras el Maa natural spring. Additionally the property has dug wells and natural springs. “All these sources are used, controlled, and cleaned when needed, and shared with local farmers and families,” says Lisa. “Saving and sharing water is a humanitarian principle.” Noor Fès is fortunate to be at the base of the Atlas Mountains and have access to water, which they share with the villages around them. A simple concept: healthy land and soil throughout the region supports the health of a single farm.
She adds, “We are also …go[ing] toward zero waste: using the remains of olives and branches as a natural fertilizer [with] big plans to invest in solar panels to be self-sufficient in energy. Everything from the ground should go back to the ground.”
Noor Fès is working toward organic certification from Ecocert, a process that can take time. Currently, 40 hectares of the estate at this time are dedicated to gaining organic certification.
You can see the precision and intention that went into growing the trees and cultivating the land with integrated environmental practices, and this same approach applies to harvesting and production, too.
The harvesting team receives one week of intensive training (a first in Morocco!) under the supervision of an expert named Seghini to ensure the preservation of the trees and the olives. The harvesting is solely done by hand-picking; no rakes or machines. The olives fall into nets under the trees and the fruit is at the mill within four hours for cold-pressing. The quality and health benefits of the oil are achieved by segmenting the production process. For example, the removal of leaves from the olives and the washing of the olives are two separate processes, which is rarely the case. And the temperature is controlled with no increase during the entire production process. Additionally, Noor Fès increased the number of machines rather than the capacity of existing machines which can lead to increased temperatures and a degradation of quality and health benefits. The result is healthier oil with a higher level of the powerful antioxidants known as polyphenols.
Noor Fès is putting Morocco on the map for top quality extra virgin olive oil. “Olive oil in Morocco is typically a family affair…a homemade product,” says Lisa.
All of their endeavors and dedication show in the quality of Noor Fès olive oil. “It is a beautiful balance between fruity, spicy and bitter,” Lisa says.
One olive oil expert from North Africa describes Noor Fès olive oil as “delicate and complex…a whiff of freshly cut culinary herbs…The aftertaste grows stronger towards bitterness ending with an intense tangy expression that makes you cough…undeniable proof that polyphenols are very abundant.” Our Rogers Collection team recently had a tasting and found an initial soft fruitiness with strawberry notes that slid into a pleasant peppery finish.
While this most recent harvest produced delicious oil, the process was not without challenges, due mainly to COVID. Firstly, the delivery of their new Pieralisi extraction press was delayed. The parts for these machines are made from scratch by casting purchased steel and stainless style and are typically assembled on site by an expert. However, this was not possible during the worst of COVID when the Pieralisi team was not traveling, so the Noor Fès team assembled and calibrated the machine with live video instruction from technicians. Since the initial assembly, experts have come to Noor Fès to finesse the calibration of the Pieralisi press and provide comprehensive training and education for Noor Fès employees. This will positively affect the outcome of the upcoming 2022 harvest and pressing.
This was a pandemic pivot that called on Noor Fès to implement their philosophy of training, education, growing and making the most pure and authentic products by merging technology with time-honored traditions. Making a defect-free extra virgin olive oil from harvest to harvest is a science that the Noor Fès team continues to improve.
Noor Fès co-organizes the annual Festival L’Olive au Cœur which will be held this year November 10-22 with about 70% of the festival’s events at the Noor Fès estate. Events include music, theater, singing, cooking shows, tours and tastings all designed to celebrate the rich history of the olive tree in Morocco while raising awareness for children’s organization AMESIP. Noor Fès is also a sponsor of the Fes Festival of Sacred Music of the World, a festival held in Fès showcasing diverse spiritual music from around the world. Noor Fès wants to “bring their stone to the building”–a French expression–meaning it is important to contribute to and support the culture and arts of the ancient city of Fès.
Noor Fès translates to the “light of Fès.” Lisa explains they are not using “light” in the literal sense of the word, rather to mean their olive oil is “a light for your body, a source of light that enters your body and is really healthy for you.”
The packaging of Noor Fès–available in a variety of sizes and styles–once again captures the concept of light. ‘Noor Fès’ is written in beautiful, sweeping golden Arabic calligraphy with a background of a starburst golden mosaic pattern inspired by the style of zellige–-the traditional Moroccan mosaic tilework made from individually hand-chiseled pieces. The golden artwork of the packaging symbolizes the essence of the “sun rising on the city of Fès” says Lisa.
Lisa says, “Morocco is known for its tourist sites and its beautiful cuisine. We want to export this culinary expertise. The future of Noor Fès is to make authentic Moroccan recipes using fresh olives and export it. Giving exporting a twist, the Moroccan style, “à la marocaine’.” Noor Fès is currently experimenting with other local products. As they help Morocco gain notoriety for high-quality extra virgin olive oil, we look forward to seeing the trails they blaze next and how they embrace and share the traditional products of the country.