Sunday, May 3, 2015

Strong and Sweet Berber Roses!

We’ve come to Kelaat M’Gouna, in Southern Morocco, to see the rose harvest. Roses grow around the world, of course, but are a combination of fine, abundant, and suitable for extraction in only a few places: Morocco, Bulgaria, Turkey and Iran. People have their favorites but I think it’s a matter of opinion to say that roses are “better” in this place or that. People have preferences, and most of that is geographic, or maybe even practical. Turkey and its fans consider Turkish rose far superior to everything, Bulgarians think theirs is the best, and Iranians are sure they have the best roses in the world. Many people who use and buy rose will trumpet one of the other and point quite seriously at some constituent or other and use it as proof that their favorite rose is the best one. I think that’s complete nonsense. Roses of all origins are subject to the vagaries of their processing, but a fine rose extraction can come from many roses. And we are all sure loving our Moroccan rose.

One of the primary things we love at Enfleurage is the connection between the plants and their terrior, including the people who live among them and their ways. We like to see how the plants thrive, their environment, who surrounds, them, who picks them, who distills or extracts them and how they do it. So we go see.

And here we are in the South of Morocco: Berber country. The roses who grow here are Rosa damescena, and beyond exquisite. Every color of rose appears, from the moment you land at the airport of Marrakech, through the streets, every town, and cafe we passed. But the ones in the fields, the strongest and sweetest ones, the ones picked and distilled, or made into concrete, or dried, or made into rose confiture, run mostly the spectrum of pinks, and they live throughout the green agricultural countryside, interspersed with wheat, olives, and various grasses. Plots are small, about a hectare apiece, but fortunately there are many of them in the limited space. Most of the surrounding area is dry and rocky high desert, with almost no rain, abundant wind, and plenty of rolling craggy hills and space. While surrounded by a huge rolling landscape, tucked into small valleys and wadis are oases and dense green carpeted farms. Gardens may be walled and we drove through town to a magnificent plot, certified organic and even certified AOP. The extreme creatures had an air filter in the field! An open air filter to remove particles from the air which might drift in from the road, although that road is lightly trafficked and pretty far away. I kid you not. First time i’ve seen this.

The roses are glorious! They are so strong, so sweet, really complex, dense, a fruity note and a hint of spice, but they differ from other roses in that there is a certain friendliness about them. They seem loving and accessible and their guardians allowed us to roam in the gardens freely, to play, and frolic, and smell, and taste. The Berber roses are strong and gentle, complex yet approachable, like the people who tend them.

There are four of us from Enfleurage on this trip and we are staying in a traditionally built family home-stay perched on an escarpment above the gardens. The food is lovingly prepared and all vegetables, of course! We drink plenty of vervain infusions and thyme tea and sit on the terrace endlessly watching the sunrise and moonrise and listening to the birds.

We spent our first day visiting the distillery and fields of the certified bio, AOP guy, and later went to the dynamic extractor for other essential oils and rose concrete, and they were again kind enough to let us play, and get in the way, and swoon in intoxicated bliss and the sweet rose fragrance which was really strong there. According to our hosts, here are some rough numbers for extraction:

4 tons (metric ones) of roses make 4000 litres of rosewater.
4 tons of roses also makes a litre of rose otto.

A ton of roses (1000 kilo) also makes a kilo of absolute.

Also, the entire rose season is 3-4 weeks, and the rest of the year the field just waits. So it’s a once-a-year harvest. Low yield and low return on acreage are the reasons rose is so expensive.

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