Sunday, 31 January 2016

Mġarr Rural Trail


The Mġarr Rural Trail, which features a number of sites of historic, cultural and natural importance, was inaugurated today. The trail includes information panels which highlight natural attractions, and historic treasures amongst which are the Ħaġrat Temples, an ancient religious site, and the Roman baths on the way down to Għajn Tuffieħa. 

The Mġarr local council and the Majjistral Local Action Group made this project possible through EU funding.


The Mġarr Rural Trail - Click to view flier



Inauguration speeches



Walking towards the grove


Dr. Ian Borg, Parliamentary Secretary for EU funds and 2017 Presidency


Majjistral LAG Manager Ms. Marisa Marmara’ and Mġarr Mayor Mr. Paul Vella planting young olive trees

Monday, 7 December 2015

Olive oil in the Maltese islands



From amber yellow to emerald green, olive oil comes in many shades and hues. Sometimes known as ‘liquid gold’, it has been a staple in our diets for time immemorial – around 400 generations, to be exact.

The History

Indigenous to the Mediterranean region, the olive tree has played a crucial role in our diets and nourishment for around 10,000 years. It is believed, in fact, that we've picked olives from trees since the early Neolithic period, and that we started extracting this fruit’s oil some 8,000 years ago. Everyone from the Grecians to the Israelites to the Romans and the Minoans cultivated and consumed olives, and all of these milked them for their delicious and wholesome juices.

This age old tradition that pre-dates written history has survived the test of time, and nowadays, olive oil is a favourite among all the people of the world, be they Mediterranean or not. So much so, that the global production of olive oil is of over 3,200,000 tonnes per year; and it is assumed that close to 100 per cent of that is consumed each year as well.


Fun Facts About Olive Oil
  • Olive oil’s renowned health properties and aromas are due to their plant-based antioxidants called ‘polyphenols’. These are believed to be both anti-carcinogenic and anti-aging.
  • We all know that some red wines get better with age, but olive oil is a product best consumed as fresh as possible. For this reason, you should always check its harvest date.
  • It should be stored in cool, dark places with the lid firmly in place as light, heat and oxygen can destroy its chemical compound. In fact, the fridge is one of the best places to preserve its taste, colour and nutritive elements. It may solidify, but, once taken out, it will go back to being a liquid within a few minutes.
  • The notion that extra virgin olive oil (evoo) should never be heated or used for cooking is not supported by research. However one should not use EVOO for frying. During our EVOO experiences we examine this fact in more detail and discuss from where this myth originated.
  • While unfiltered olive oil may look less appetising – muddy, even – it is actually much tastier and much more nutritious than its filtered counterpart.
  • No two harvests are the same, so no two batches of olive oil can ever taste the same.
  • A certain degree of bitterness is required to ensure that the olive oil is genuine.
  • In tasting sessions, different people may taste the same olive oil differently; that is why the aroma is given more importance.
  • Proper, unfiltered olive oil contains natural fats, meaning it has a high-calorific value – but, don’t worry, they’re good fats!

Extra virgin olive oil can be easily coupled to other local ingredients

Merill & Olive Oil
Olive oil was one of the first products we discovered at Merill. This was no coincidence, however, as two of the first people we teamed up with were Charlie and Ray Vella, the hard-working farmers and owners of tan-Nixxiegha Olive Grove.

Over the years, we have made it our mission to support the farmers in our rural network, particularly those whose work is eco-friendly, thanks to the EU LEADER funded Project. This training consists of pest control and management, olive oil appreciation, and health and safety regulations when working around trees, among many others.

As part of our on-going work, we also support researchers who are rediscovering old Maltese varieties and studying their unique properties; and we help create awareness about the benefits of choosing local and unaltered food products. 


What We Offer

Should you wish to organise an Olive Oil Tasting session to find out what real, unfiltered olive oil tastes like, feel free to get in touch with us.

 
We have:

  • Professional Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Tasting – As one of newest ventures, this offers small groups the chance to sit down to a glorious olive oil tasting session that will challenge everything you think you know about the taste and smell of good olive oil.
  • Bottled Extra-Virgin Olive Oil - Bottled liquid goodness that’s of a guaranteed quality and origin.

written by WriteMeAnything.com


For more information on Merill or our Olive Oil Tasting sessions, why not drop us a line at info@merill.com or call us on +356 9944 3118? 



Monday, 6 July 2015

Agritourism policy and the environment

by Kristina Chetcuti


Building new agritourism structures is ‘blasphemy’


Ecotourism agency Merrill believes Mepa’s agritourism construction proposals would create eyesores in the countryside. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi
Ecotourism agency Merill believes Mepa’s agritourism construction proposals would create eyesores in the countryside. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi
Jeanette Borg. Photo: Matthew MirabelliJeanette Borg. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli
Building new structures for accommodation in rural areas, as provided for by the new Outside Development Zones draft policy, is “blasphemy” according to a local pioneer in agritourism.
The draft policy was launched last month by Planning Parliamentary Secretary Michael Farrugia, who said it aimed to develop agritourism by allowing farmers, individually or in groups, to build up to 10 rooms for accommodation when their land exceeds 60 tumoli.
However, Jeanette Borg, managing director of Merill, the first ecotourism agency in Malta, believes this proposal would create an eyesore.
“We are completely against building more establishments on virgin land, agricultural land, or garigue.
“Building a utility room to serve as a store for agritourism purposes is one thing, building up to 10 rooms is another thing,” she said, pointing out that the rooms would need ancillary structures such as driveways and parking spaces, leading to entire complexes.
“Landscape mitigation is very hard to achieve, and they will be nothing but an eyesore,” she said.
Ms Borg believes the problem is that “we try to copy Sicily” – a scenario that “would not work” here.
Agritourism, she said, is a combination of experiences and not just accommodation in rural areas.
“Eco-friendly types of accommodation such as restored old town houses in the heart of Maltese villages also are agritourism,” she said.
Travelling distances are minimal in Malta so tourists are a maximum of half an hour away from the farm where the agri-experience is to take place, she said, stressing we should not aim to create a drastic shift from hotels.
“That would be shooting the local tourism industry in the foot.”
She questioned the need for rural accommodation when the island’s tourism marketing is geared towards Malta being “a sun and sea island”.
Landscape mitigation is very hard to achieve, and they will be nothing but an eyesore
“Agritourism is a niche market. We won’t be inundated with large quantities of high-paying tourists overnight: do we ever see promotion of Malta’s rural areas?”
A case in point, she said, was Gozo, where most of the farmhouses available for tourists remain vacant during the shoulder months.
The marriage of agriculture and tourism, she said, is one of the few ways that our farmland can preserve its character.
“Unless an economic value is given to agricultural land, we will continue having farmers who forfeit their land to build more since property is still generating money. This is dangerous.”
Ms Borg praised the draft policy for “its good intentions” and being “a good attempt at allowing investment to take place in rural areas that was not possible in the past”, such as the establishment of farm shops.
It is a welcome option because it will enable locals and tourists to buy fresh produce directly from the farmers, she said.
However, she pointed out it is still practically impossible to obtain permits to process local food in small-scale plants and the Department of Public Health is still “imposing non-practical requirements” for genuine producers.
“This red tape is leading to apathy in the Maltese food delicacies industry – no wonder delicacy shops are opening up selling items from all over the world, except Malta.”
She hopes “loopholes and bureaucratic webs” will be addressed, citing farmers who have been denied permission to restore derelict buildings or build an underground reservoir.
“We all know how many huge complexes or residential areas have been granted permits on virgin land.”
Project processes ought to be centralised in one institution, she recommended, as currently projects need endorsement of the Agriculture and Public Health departments and at times even the Malta Tourism Authority.
“By the time one gets the seal of approval for a proposed, EU-funded project from the three bodies, the call for funding would have closed.”

Article from Timesofmalta.com

Monday, 11 May 2015

Viticulturists within the Merill Rural Network


Much like our forefathers believed that the stars controlled their destiny, we now know that climate and geographical regions affect the chemical composition of grapes and, in turn, of wine. The study of this science, and some might even say nature’s art, is called viticulture, and the Merill Rural Network is proud to be helping out those furthering Malta’s sector in this sphere.

Grapes are an incredibly versatile berry: They can be eaten fresh, add a burst of zingy sweetness to dishes as raisins or sultanas, and even make the anti-oxidising drink that is grape juice. But for all its worth, their best loved and most influential use remains their ability to ferment and create one of the world’s oldest alcoholic beverages... Wine.

At Merill, we champion tradition, crafts from an age that is fast disappearing, and the use of long-established practices when it comes to agriculture, but we also understand that science and new knowledge are there to help us build a more sustainable and efficacious system. And that’s where our viticulturists come in.

Meet Carmel & Paul Cortis, brothers by blood and in the field


Working the land is a backbreaking job that, more often than not, cements the bond that ties father to son, mother to daughter, and sibling to sibling. Carmel and Paul Cortis, are brothers in and out of the field, but their mutual love for viticulture has led them to develop a requited fondness that is evident in their work.

Chances are, you’ve already laid your eyes on one of the patches of land that the Cortis brothers manicure on a weekly basis. Perched just beneath the imposing, fortified city of Mdina lies their vineyard; a beautiful medley of colourful vines that contrast exceptionally well with the straw-coloured walls of the Medieval Silent City.

It’s hard to believe that this landscape was once devoid of life, and that Carmel and Paul had to reintroduce soil and plant vines when they first took up farming. They’ve come a long way since then and, through heavy investment in machinery and new technology, hard work, and pure determination, they are now the proud carers of a plantation of grapevines that bears fruit in the summer and provides greenery throughout the rest of the year.


Carmel and Paul are part-time farmers, but most of their free time is spent tending the field, along with their wives and children, who provide a helping hand whenever needed but particularly during harvesting season, when the workload is at its peak.

Meet Patrick Gauci, a man whose pastime enriches the landscape

While not many fathers expect their children to follow in their footsteps, Patrick is one who can proudly say that his influence on his son gained Malta another, much-needed agriculture graduate. At 55 years old, however, Patrick still spends a lot of his time farming, and is a person whose pastime is ‘rewarding’, ‘relaxing’ and beneficial to Malta’s grape-growing industry and the land he sows.

Situated at the foot of the ridge where Gnien l-Gharusa tal-Mosta lies, the Ghajn Rihana Vineyards yield grapes that go on to produce some of the Island’s most celebrated wines. All this, Patrick does in his free time, but he has been doing so since he was a child, and is grateful to have found someone who will take care of his land with him and also once he can no longer do it himself.




With a lifetime’s worth of experience in farming and viticulture, Patrick has a wealth of intellectual and practical knowledge in the field that is now fostered and bolstered by the EU-funded LEADER programme, secured through the Merill Rural Network.

To stay up-to-date with Carmel & Paul’s Cortis Vineyard, you can follow them on Facebook by clicking here; for Patrick’s Ghajn Rihana Vineyards, you can click here. For more information on Merill you can contact us by e-mail at info@merill.com.mt or by calling us on +356 9944 3118.

Written by WriteMeAnything.com




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