Mieles y Aceites Leonor: Unmarked Bottles of Green Glory

Categories: Tijuana Sí!

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Dave Lieberman
The best olive oils in the world are not the fancy ones you buy on the shelf at Whole Foods or Sur La Table; they're not even the ones who win the awards at olive oil competitions run by people who take this entirely too seriously.

No, the best olive oil is the one you love the best, and if you live in an olive-growing region, chances are it's the one closest to you, the one with the least marketing pizzazz. In the case of the Valle de Guadalupe, then, the least pizzazz award goes to the olive oil sold by Leonor, the kind viejita who sells honey, royal jelly, and olive oil out of a wobbly old shack at the traffic light in San Antonio de las Minas.

When I say "wobbly old shack", I mean that you can't close the door fully because it's warped; there's no electricity in there; the floor is uneven. The olive oil bottles aren't even marked. They come from an assortment of olives, all grown within the valley, and when I asked her who pressed the oil, she shrugged and said they're dropped off by a Spanish guy with a red face ("¡como la tuya!") once in a while. This is olive oil you buy on faith.

That faith is repaid in spades: though I love Misiones de Baja California and other Valle de Guadalupe oils, I use Leonor's oil in my kitchen as though it were water, for everything from poaching fish to the last drizzle on spaghetti al pomodoro. It's got the typical herbaceous flavor of all Baja oils, without being acidic or overly grassy. It's also not a very heavy oil compared to some. I used half a bottle of it this past weekend to make Hatch chile aïoli, and it's impossible to imagine vinaigrette without it. When I run out, there's an aching void in my cabinet.

Unfortunately, the wonky supply chain combined with the fact that others know about this oil means that sometimes I walk away from Leonor's shack with nothing more than a sample of honey and an update on her aged mother, whom Leonor takes care of during the week.

When there is oil, though, I stock up, and it's not much of a drain on my wallet to do so. The going rate for a litre of locally grown extra-virgin olive oil here in Alta California is $25-$30; Leonor's oils go for 100 pesos, or $8, a litre. You could buy an entire case--if one were ever actually available--for less than the cost of 2 bottles of California oil.

If you're in the market for honey, she sells plastic tubs of honey, of royal jelly, of bee pollen, and of honeycomb, all for extremely reasonable prices, and they're more generally available than olive oil, because people use less honey than olive oil.

Leonor sells her wares in a small building on Mexican Federal Highway 3, just past the traffic light in San Antonio de las Minas. She is normally there on weekends; if no one is there, ask at the barbacoa stand next door. There is no electricity and therefore no telephone.

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