There isn’t a home or professional kitchen in Spain that doesn’t stock olive oil. It is ubiquitous, and its popularity is similar to the French passion for butter. We adore this unctuous golden liquid!
One of the best ways to experience Spanish olive oil is at breakfast. While a sweet pastry is still appreciated, most of us are unconditionally loyal to “Pan, Aceite y Jamón”. Fresh bread, olive oil and cured ham is my favourite way to start the day; and while I occasionally substitute jamón with cheese, tuna or an omelette, bread and olive oil are irreplaceable. And believe me, Andalucia is where olive oil enjoys the highest status: even the smallest, least fashionable bar serves up a fantastic olive oil.
Artisan olive oil in remote Andalucia: Sierra de Cadiz
Spanish olive oil production isn’t limited to large swathes of flat landscapes, as you might imagine. In the Sierra de Cadiz, barely 45 minutes away from where I live, the landscape is very different, with rolling hills. This area only represents 2% of the total production, but the olives are fantastic! Because of the steep slopes, only mules and muleteers can access the olive groves. Once picked, the olives are placed into one-bushel sacks (50 kilograms), and loaded onto the mule. Each mule can carry up to three bushels when trekking down the hill to the mill.
If you’re keen for slightly spicy, fruity and unctuous olive oil, this is a good option.
6 tips to ensure fresh and flavorful olive oil
- Buy Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO). It’s the only pure and fresh olive oil that’s free of additives and incredibly flavorful. “Extra Virgin” is an indicator of quality and guarantees the olive oil is a premium product, with an excellent aroma on your nose and superb taste on your palate!
- Buy EVOO in an opaque bottle, because after one week of UV rays, the antioxidants will be destroyed.
- Don’t let the color of the oil perturb you – for example, if it is green. Color is not an indicator of quality; it’s merely a characteristic of the olive variety, of which there are 262 in Spain. However, only 24 are regularly used in the production of olive oil.
- Look for an acidity that is less than 1 percent.
- The fresher, the better – olive oil should be consumed the moment it hits the market. Some olive varieties are more stable, such as picual and manzanilla, which can last up to 24 months, but others like arbequina are less stable, and will only keep up to nine months. How do you know which bottle to buy? Look at the “best before” date. For instance, if I choose a bottle today stating “best before October 2015”, it means it will be one year old.
- Close the cap tightly. Oxygen is not your friend! It will oxidize the olive oil and give off rancid notes.
These six tips are wonderful ways to ensure you’re getting the best olive oil possible
Use it liberally, but don’t forget that olive oil has a fat content and should be consumed in moderation. It’s not a question of quantity, but quality – a small amount of high-quality olive oil is enough to experience its aroma and delight your palate. As it so happens, I’m currently cleaning some bullet tuna (also known as frigate mackerel), a delicate blue fish from the tuna family and common in Andalucia. I’ll boil them in salt water for about ten minutes, drain, and then dip each piece in some extra virgin olive oil garnished with black pepper, laurel and thyme. After a 24-hour marinade in the fridge, we’ll enjoy them, just as they are, with a tall glass of vermouth!
In case you have any questions regarding cooking and preparation methods, please don’t hesitate to ask.
If you can read Spanish, I suggest you to look at this old post to learn about the entire EVOO production process, and this other one to find out how an olive oil tasting is carried out, along with the various pairing possibilities depending on the type of olive.