Last year, I did several installments in a series called 'A Copa Con...'. I wanted to bring back the tradition as an excuse to sit down with the lovely Marta Mendia, part of the artisan cannery Conservas Olasagasti. They've been in the conserves and fishing business for centuries, with a fascinating story that originated in Italy. Nowadays, the make some of the best canned tuna, anchovies, and even Italian pasta sauces that a euro can buy. Enjoy the interview, and check out their products if you can.
Can you tell me a little about the history of the family businss?
My husband Mateo's family was dedicated to fishing. His grandfather went to Getaria at the beginning of the 20th century. In Spain, they weren't yet doing the cured anchovy. They would just catch it and fry it, fresh. The Sicilians started building factories, first just for anchovies, but then for other things too. Balenciaga made dresses for his wife.
So how did you and your husband come into the picture?
He sent Mateo's father to Genova to open an import business, which brought good Spanish products to Italy. In the 1990s, Mateo finished school in Genova and his dad said, "Let's do something in Spain again."
What do you think are the keys to making excellent seafood conserves?
Fish caught here, and processed here. You open the can and can see the difference. For us, the origin and the quality is key.
Origin. So why are the Basque coast and northern waters such desirable fishing spots?
Flavor depends where and when the fish is caught. When the tuna passes by here, it's perfect. Everything depends on where you fish it. Many companies fish in the Cantabria and send the fish, frozen, to Morrocco for processing.
Where do you process your fish?
Here. Our artisans are people who have been working with us their whole life. They make it with the same method as our grandparents.
What else are you proud of about your tuna, anchovies and other products?
It should be of a consistent quality. With Olasagasti we were sure we wanted to have a brand with great, consistent quality. Our fishermen fish with a rod. We don't destroy the environment or fish unwanted species. we have all the trazabilidad. We know the name of the boat, the day it arrived to the factory.
Which of your products is your favorite?
I love to take the tuna straight from the pandereta (the big, food industry size drum). Because you get huge chunks.
How do you like to enjoy it?
For me it's perfect with olive oil and bread.
You add more olive oil? Isn't it packed with olive oil?
Yes. Lots of people ask 'Why don't we use extra virgin olive oil to pack with?' All of our tuna is packed in a light olive oil, but I like to add a stronger flavored extra-virgin olive oil. Conserves last forever, so if you use a really strong oil, the fish loses its own flavor.
Thanks, Marta! Stay tuned for more A Copa Con....