Meet the Producer

Darling Clementines

Traditionally a staple of every child’s Christmas stocking, these juicy little fruits are big on flavour. Rosie Mullender went to Spain to meet the man who grows them for Co-op.

Meet Daniel Asuero, Agronomist

"I’m proud our fruit makes Christmas more Christmassy in the UK"

For those of us old enough to remember, finding a clementine in the bottom of our Christmas stocking was a real treat and it’s a tradition that many families still keep up. And, even if the fruit is lost among today’s gizmos and plastic games, it still takes pride of place in our Christmas fruit bowls.

I’ve travelled to Huelva in the southwest of Spain to meet Daniel Asuero, the man who supplies Co-op with the best clementines.

"This is what we do — we strive for the best. It’s what we live for."

‘Since I was a child, I’ve enjoyed being in contact with nature and the environment,’ Daniel says. ‘I like working in harmony with my surroundings, in the fields. Anything to do with the countryside and I’m happy.’ Huelva usually basks in sunshine, but overnight rain has swept through the orchards where our clementines grow. But tomorrow morning, the sun will soon dry the trees out again.

‘We usually harvest in the morning,’ Daniel says, ‘but the fruit needs to be completely dry when it’s collected, so we must wait,’ he explains, looking up at the cloudless blue skies.

Daniel is an agronomist for third-generation clementine producer Martinavarro. He’s worked there for almost 21 years — and if he says the harvest has to stop, it stops. ‘Fruit with wet skin can’t be harvested, as it’s more prone to marks,’ Daniel says, picking a clementine from a nearby branch and showing me how soft the rain-soaked skin is.

As the fruit dries, the air becomes humid, and fills with the sweet scent of clementines.

By mid-morning, the clementines are ready to be picked and the workers descend on the orchard, which hums with the sound of bees. ‘This farm has 260 hectares of land, so there are between 15 and 25 permanent workers here, depending on the time of year and sometimes up to 200,’ Daniel tells me.

Huelva is the ideal climate for growing Co-op clementines, and they reach perfect ripeness in November and December — which is why they’re so popular in the UK at Christmas.

We can harvest the trees for up to 30 years

‘We have high quality water and a kind climate, plus it’s very rare to experience frost here,’ Daniel says. ‘These two important factors make Huelva the perfect place to produce clementines.’ Add plenty of sunlight and room to grow, then, after three years, each sapling planted in the orchard will be ready to produce sweet, juicy fruit. ‘Optimum maturity is reached when trees are six to seven years old, and we can harvest them for up to 30 years,’ Daniel explains.

As well as caring for the orchards, Martinavarro has preserved areas of the farm for the benefit of wildlife — Daniel points out a huge cork tree that’s over 100 years old. I wonder how Daniel knows the exact time to harvest. ‘We monitor the citric acid and sugar content, along with the colour of the fruit, and this tells us when it’s ready,’ he says.

‘I’m proud that our fruit makes Christmas more Christmassy in the UK,’ Daniel smiles. ‘I still love them, even though I eat 5 to 10 a day to check their quality. This is what we do — we strive for the best. It’s what we live for.’