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If traveling to Vlora, the exit for Novoselë will take you on the path toward the Musai olive oil factory, one of Albania’s best-known producers of olive oil which has recently opened its doors to tourists who are interested in learning more about the production stages of this quality brand.
The olive groves of the “Musai” oil factory create a beautiful shaded path, inviting the visitor to walk and admire the ancient trees that have been here for centuries. Their longevity represents one of the reasons behind the excellent taste of the Musai oil, a brand, the name of which is synonymous with an Albanian food industry quality product. The factory offers various tours for tourists eager to learn more about the brand’s products and our journey towards their discovery has just begun.
How is olive oil made? What is the path taken by the olive which travels from the ancient trees all the way to our tables? At Musai, the visitor will have the chance to witness the entire production process of extra virgin and bio/organic olive oil. Along our walk through the groves, we are guided by Vesaf Musai, the company’s owner, and his son, Bruno, who after completing his studies in food technology, joined the family business.
We begin the tour with the olive basket where the carefully collected olives wait to be processed. After being washed with quality-sealed, drinkable water, the olives are processed along with their pit which is crushed and does not influence the oil quality. Once the homogenization process of the paste is complete, the product goes through the centrifugal process, through which the oil is separated by the water used and placed in a decanter. Then, the oil is conserved in the best conditions in a perfectly isolated room.
The Musai company cannot be understood properly if one does not meet Vesaf, its founder. In the Albania of the ’90s, a period of a difficult transition, Vesaf determinedly dedicated himself to a demanding business. A lively Mediterranean man, proud of his entrepreneurial spirit and company, he passionately recounts the history of Musai, a market fixture for 25 years.
“I was born proud,” he says, convinced that the maximal effort he puts into everything he does, eventually pays off. And, indeed, it certainly did in his case. In 2004, he received the certificate granting him permission to produce organic oil, the product equated with Musai and one that has garnered him multiple prizes and awards for its high quality. The bio/organic oil differs from the extra virgin one as, in the case of the former, there is no external contamination. Musai counts a total of 3500 certified olive roots for the production of bio/organic oil.
The numbers speak for themselves. 6000 Liters of organic oil and 12000 Liters of extra virgin oil are distributed throughout the world, from Switzerland to New York and Hong Kong. This brand has become one of the primary ambassadors of high-quality Albanian products exported abroad and, thus, it is no wonder that so many tourists want to learn more about the factory.
This vast experience has made Vesaf a true connoiseur of the Albanian soil. He can easily detect the best terrain for the cultivation of the authocton variety of kalinjot. This variety is particularly rich in polyphenol, the anti-oxidant that grants olive oil its longevity and nutritional value. Musai harvests this variety from the hills of Skrofotina, Trevllazër, and Cerkovina of Vlora. The sea’s iodium permeates the air of these hills in which the olives mature under the sun’s rays all year round, dramatically increasing the quality of this area’s olives.
As Vesaf speaks of the olives, we cannot help but notice that the language he uses is one that, just as easily, could refer to human beings. “The place in which the olive lays is very important and so are the harvesting conditions. Once upon a time, one would violently shake the trees for the fruit to come down but that caused the buds to drop. How can one hit a tree? It’s like kicking someone and expecting them to perform well after they’ve been kicked.”
The ideal period for collecting olives is the beginning of October, while they are still green and have barely started to brown. Farmers come to Musai, as well, in order to process their own olives, making the factory reach an annual total of 300 tons of olive oil production. In fact, the rate of oil production here is more than four times higher than that required by the European Union.
After becoming well acquainted with the factory, Vesaf and Bruno take us to an area nearby where they grow seedless grapes.
While tasting the olive oil and seedless grapes, on the spot, in the tables set up among the vineyards, Vesaf and Bruno share their countless ideas of turning Musai into one of the most popular touristic destinations around Vlora. Whoever comes in contact with the sheer passion and vibrancy that runs through the Musai family’s DNA has no doubt that this objective will surely be achieved.