Victor gathering cherries in the Jerte Valley
«Excuse me ... I have to leave you because it is starting to rain and I have to go pick cherries«, The mother of Victor, young farmer of Jerte Valley which is also dedicated to tourism activities in the company Lodge.
In the time of the cherry picking in this North Extremadura Valley, which takes place from May to the beginning of August, the farmers are constantly watching the sky. A strong spring shower can spoil much of the work of the entire season.
In the most recent visit I have made to Jerte Valley, not in the traditional era of cherry blossoms (which also ...), but during the so-called Cerecera, I have been able to discover how the entire population lives on the cherry ... and is aware of it.
When you travel around this time for the little ones villages of the Jerte Valley, You will see that in each garage the women are making the selection and first packaging of the cherries that the men collect every day.
But when it rains, everything runs to the fields to accelerate the collection before the cherries get wet, because then, if they have not been spoiled, they should be left in the trees until they dry.
Cherries in the Jerte Valley
At Jerte Valley At present there are about 13,000 inhabitants that are distributed throughout the eleven villages of the region. You can almost say that everyone is engaged in agriculture. It is a family economy with small farms.
On average, each farmer has five farms distributed in areas of varying height in the valley, with an average area of 1.5 hectares.
They tell us that the crisis has hardly been noticed, that there is work for anyone, but that, in reality, they are always in crisis, that is, at the expense of the rains. They remind us that in 1985 it rained nonstop since April, which spoiled the entire collection.
Calibration and selection of cherries in the villages of Valle del Jerte
But what do the laborers who work in the field charge for the collection of cherries? The so-called system is usually applied «half«; that is, the group of pawns that collect a field is distributed halfway with the farmer who owns the land the cherries collected every day.
For their part, pawns of Romanian origin, who prefer a fixed salary, are paid 55 euros for each day of work.
In the visit of the valley during the Cerecera, besides tasting the gastronomic days or of hiking, You can see how the cherries have been picked by hand, because it is a very delicate fruit and its collection cannot be mechanized. To do this, farmers go tree by tree, picking ripe cherries, which they store in baskets that end up weighing 5 to 7 kilos.
I have the impression that, really, in the valley they don't know the number of cherry varieties that there are currently, because at each visit they told us a different number.
Selection of cherries in the Group of Cooperatives of the Jerte Valley
But come on, there are between 100 and 120, since the most traditional and well-known varieties, where the five variants of pillory, and others with denominations as suggestive as Navalinda, in versions Lemon Peak, Black beak Y Colorao Peak, those that in recent times have been implemented by the youngest and most innovative farmers.
But you will be surprised to see how, as you walk through the fields surrounded by trees full of cherries, Victor It recognizes the different varieties, which have very different flavors and sweetness.
Of course, I will tell you that the most famous variety is the Cherry pillory, of which there are five variants, four of them without peduncle (rabito), which follows when collecting the fruit of the tree.
Prices of cherries in the Cooperative Association of Valle del Jerte
Native of the Jerte Valley, is the big star of cherries, with its dark color and firmer texture. Also the latest at the time of picking it up, and the highest price.
Another aspect that will surprise you is the great tradition and cooperative feeling that exists in the region, which transmits us with its explanations Chelo Bardón, farmer and rural development technician of the Jerte Valley Management Society.
In the Jerte Valley and the nearby region of Vera there are 16 cooperatives, so that each farmer, once he has collected the cherries, and many of them have selected them in their garages, take them to the village cooperative, from where they transport to the Grouping of Cooperatives of the Jerte Valley.
From there the famous commercialization is carried out jerte cherries, increasingly directed towards exportation, where they have to compete mainly with cherries from Turkey ... which are four times cheaper.
Distillery in the Group of Cooperatives of the Jerte Valley
In this group each year more than 16 million kilos of cherries are packed, of which slightly less than half are calibrated and selected in their increasingly modern production lines.
It is surprising to see how each cherry that travels at full speed through the selection lines is photographed, and thanks to software, depending on its size, they automatically go to the corresponding packaging area.
With the cherries that are discarded (destrio) due to its deteriorated state or small size, a very distilled spirit is made in the grouping aggressive (42º), a sweet liquor (17º) and also jams and picotines (cherries in brandy and sugar).
In addition to cherries, olives and chestnuts are produced during other times of the year, but also figs, raspberries, currants or blackberries.
You can know all this during the cooperative visits which are organized in the aforementioned It will grow. Or in the guided tours for groups that the aforementioned company carries out at the time of collection Stay, in which you will learn to collect cherries ... and surely you will taste some.
Brandy and cherry liqueur in the Jerte Valley