By: Natasha Smith
DISTILLERS ARE fighting to save the future of the Algarve medronho industry from bureaucratic red tape, with efforts focused on ways of legally producing the potent local firewater.
A meeting held last Friday to resolve the matter of licensing, which is the jurisdiction of the câmaras, was attended by several câmara members, the Regional Agriculture Directive and In Loco, a local association representing medronho distillers of the Algarve.
“The law is very complex and it is new territory for the câmaras. The meeting clarified the issues,” said Joaquim Mealha, from In Loco.
Silves, Tavira, Monchique, São Brás, Loulé, Lagos and Aljezur were represented at the meeting, which ended on a positive note, according to Mealha.
“It is necessary for the industry to be regulated and we discussed improvements in health and safety standards.”
In Loco has helped medronho producers to implement risk assessment analysis plans and health and safety measures. Câmaras are likely to insist that distillers improve standards, so this was a pre-emptive strike to fast track licence approvals.
In environmental terms, pollutant gas emissions from medronho distilleries are minimal and similar to emissions from a typical domestic fire.
In Loco said it hoped all câmaras will follow in the footsteps of Monchique, which began licensing distillers last September and implementing health and safety measures. At least 77 distillers have now applied for licences.
Painting walls with eggshell paint and using cement or tiles for flooring allow the areas where medronho is produced to remain as clean as possible. Mosquito nets are also required as part of the guidelines.
There are fears that the licensing red tape could drive distillers away from the area and destroy the already flagging industry.
The majority of distillers are elderly and harvesting the fruit is time consuming. Production output is usually low and distillers rarely record great profits from selling medronho.
Mealha said: “Medronho can help construct a powerful image for the Algarve. The way forward will be complicated, but eventually, we will work out the problems.”
• Medronho is made from distilled medronho berries, which grow on strawberry trees.
• The small red fruit is sometimes called arbutus berry and has a rough surface.
• Once the berries have been picked, they are placed in sealed wooden barrels with water and left to ferment for two to three months.
• The mix is then heated for five hours, which produces medronho firewater.
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