Given that over 50% percent of the world's cork production comes from Portugal, I thought it might be interesting to see if I could find out a little bit more about this wonderful natural renewable resource and how it can be used to create, not just corks for wine, but a truly endless variety of things. In fact, the amusing thing is that the cork factory I visited last week makes just about everything - but wine corks.
It's called NF Cork and they are based just outside of Faro. They very kindly agreed to meet me and give me the tour - as this is something they often do for interested tourists.
I walked in and had never seen so much cork in my life. There was mountains of the stuff. All piled ‘sky high’ outside. I made my way to the reception and this is where I met Tânia and João. Tânia is Nuno (the owner's) wife, who was very nice and knowledgeable and happily showed me around. It was only João’s second day working there (and we’ll get to his exciting job later on in the story) and so, amusingly, he hadn’t really seen the place properly either and so came along with me on my tour.
A little history
The cork factory is a family business that has been passed down through the generations. It was originally started by Nuno's parents 50 years ago, and Nuno, who grew up helping in the factory, really wanted to innovate and find out more about the potential of cork and took it over and started NF (Nuno Farias) Cork around 7 years ago.
Take your jacket off
The cork harvest is done by expert ‘descortiçadores’ in the summertime. This is because when it's hot there’s more of a gap between the cork and the tree and so it’s easier to remove.
Coming of age
Outside again, Tânia explained that the huge pile of cork is there drying (which normally takes around 6 months after harvest) and is all what is known as “desbóia” in Portuguese, or ‘virgin cork’. This means, as you probably guessed, that it's its first time being taken from a tree.
This usually happens when the tree is around 25 years old. They then paint that year's number on the bark with a special kind of chalk so that it doesn’t disappear and stays visible for the next 9 years - which is when the second coat is taken off.
It’s only from the third harvest onwards when the tree is about 43 (they usually live around 150 years) that it becomes known as ‘amadia’ cork that it can be used to make cork stoppers.
From a tiny acorn to the mighty oak
Tania also pointed out what could be thought of as the factory's mascot, their very own cork tree. It started growing there a long time ago when an acorn fell out of the pile of cork.
A cork house
We then went into the factory with the buzz of workers busy making blocks of cork for construction. It also makes the most amazing insulation and is excellent for sound absorption. The choices of textures and styles were beautiful and, of course, being a natural product, every piece was completely unique.
Handmade with love
We then came to the ‘workshop room’ where all the cork treasures that we were about to see at our final stop (the shop) were made by hand.
Creating the Future
But first, I was shown the latest and most exciting new development - and the reason why João is here. NF Cork have recently got themselves a 3D printer.
João definitely knew where he was and what he was doing when he sat in front of the computer and showed me how you can program in whatever you want and press ‘print’ and the computer will get to work making it for you. This is a very exciting new avenue as it will allow NF Cork to get even more creative and innovative with the use of their cork.
From flip flops to the kitchen sink
Our last stop was the shop which was full of a truly astonishing array of uses for cork. Everywhere which way you turned. The walls, the floor, the ceiling are all different styles of cork. There’s tables, chairs, placemats, hats, kitchen sinks and even flip flops.
So, if you ever wondered where you can find some cork, then I can confidently declare that this is the place. Whether you want to build or insulate your house with it, or are simply interested in taking the tour yourself and checking out the shop, then follow them on Facebook and Instagram @NFCork.