Day 4: Cork, Portugal, and Car Movers

Lunch break walk through the town of Coruche
where the cork factory is located.

In Indiana we have corn and soybean fields throughout the state. In Portugal, there aren’t corn or soybeans, but there are cork trees and they are incredible. Cork trees are grown in only a handful of countries around the world, Portugal has the most trees. They have 34% of the trees around the world and 50% of the production. We visited the Amorim Florestal company near Coruche our tour guide’s name was Joanna, she was a chemical engineer. It is the largest cork manufacturer in the world. Wine corks are the most important product, the best cork is used for expensive wines. What isn’t used for wine corks is made into other products, including Birkenstocks.

Another fun fact, cork harvesters are the best paid agricultural employees in Portugal. It is a very specialized skill. Harvest only lasts for a few weeks and cork harvesters will make more in that time than they do for the rest of the year.

Now you’re excited about cork and want buy in and get your own trees, right? Well you can start buying, but you will probably be buying for your grandchildren. Most people in Portugal who have cork tree farms inherited them. A saying in Portugal is that “you work with the cork you grandparents left you and plant more cork trees for your grandchildren.” It takes 5 years and a tree that is 70cm in diameter to harvest the tree. Once a tree is harvested it can continue to be harvested every 9 years. A tree will get harvested between 11 and 16 times in it’s lifetime. Cork trees will live to be over 200 years old.

How is a cork harvested? Have he bark is extrapolated from the tree, it sits outside for a year for the sap to fully dry. The wet sap is what allows the bark to be separated from the tree. After sitting for a year, the cork is boiled and flattened. Boiling makes the cells larger, makes the product more elastic, and enables it cork to be flattened. Then the cork is graded and put into 6 categories but human graders. 1 is the best score. Wine corks use 1,2,3,4 and the best wine uses 1 maybe a 2. The wines that use the 1s or 2s are usually at least a $150 bottle of wine.

After the cork factory the group went to a cereal producer who buys raw products from Portuguese farmers and creates packaged products for niche markets. The owner did not speak English. There was a young woman there who did, but did not feel her English was good enough to translate, so the owner drove to the village to pick up someone who could translate. The products ranged from rice, to dried fruit, to barley. It is sold only at small shops. 30% of the raw products that come in go to human food, the other 70% go to animal products. They produce 1,000 tons of human products each year.

Problem solving, how to get a bus down a street.

After the two tours, the group went to dinner in Evora, a small town in Portugal close to the Spanish border. Dinner was fun, but the really interesting part was after dinner. The bus carrying the group could not get down a street because a car was blocking the street slightly. So a group of for of the men got off the bus to lift and move the car. It was an interesting ending to a really great day!