OLIVE OIL…El ORO LIQUIDO
To give you an idea of the vast selection of quality olive oils, Spain has 5.7 million acres of olive groves producing 250 different varieties and some of its trees are as old as 1,000 years. Thanks to past inhabitants such as the Phoenicians, Romans and Muslims we can savor this “oro liquido”.
To understand olive oil and appreciate its subtle differences in color, aromas, and tastes one can associate an olive oils “terroir” to that of a wine with a certain “terroir”. It’s the combination of the DO’s climate and soil where the olive tree of a specific variety grows that will produce an olive oil with distinct characteristics. You will discover when you taste an olive oil made of Arbequina in Les Garrigues will be completely different from Picudo grown in Jaén.
How to properly savor an olive oil and discover those subtle differences? Try doing the following as if you were going to taste a wine, as the experts at the Spanish government institution “Olive Oil from Spain” suggest:
Color: Examine the color. The two most important factors influencing the color of the finished oil are the variety of olive and its maturity as the time of harvest. Early picked olives yield darker, greener oils, while riper olives produce oils that are lighter and more yellow in color.
Aroma: With a few thoughtful sniffs, take in the fragrance. With the best oils you should be able to detect the fresh, fruity, aroma of the olive.
Taste: Finally, taste the oil either by dipping a piece of white bread into the glass, or by drawing a teaspoon of oil quickly into the mouth, mixing it with air to register the sensation of all the nuances of flavor. Between sips, cleanse the palate with a piece of crisp apple, fresh sliced fennel or unflavored sparkling water.
E.U. Descriptions and Definitions of Olive Oils
According to Article 35
So why do I pay more for Extra-Virgin olive oil? Well technically there is a huge difference between Extra-Virgin olive oil and regular Olive Oil and is largely due to the acidity level found per 100 g, its purity, and of course quality.
Virgin Olive Oil – oils obtained from the fruit of the olive tree solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions that do not lead to alteration in the oil, which have not undergone any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation or filtration, to the exclusion of oils obtained using solvents or using adjuvants having a chemical or biochemical action, or by re0esterification process and any mixture with lils of other kinds. Virgin olive oils are exclusively classified and described below.
1) Virgin Olive Oils range from Extra to Lampante
• Extra-virgin – virgin olive oil having a maximum free acidity, in terms of oleic acid, of 0.8 per 100 g.
• Virgin olive oil – virgin olive oil having a maximum free acidity, in terms of oleic acid, of 2 g per 100 g.
• Lampante olive oil – virgin olive oil having a free acidity, in terms of oleic acid, more than 2 g per 100 g.
2) Refined Olive Oil – olive oil obtained by refining virgin olive oil, having free acidity content expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 0.3g per 100 g.
3) Crude Olive-Pomace Oil – oil obtained from olive pomace by treatment with solvents or by physical means or oil corresponding to lampante live oil, except for certain specified characteristics, excluding oil obtained by means of re-esterilfication and mixtures with other types of oils.
Spain Gourmetour Magazine, September-December 2001 Issue, Vicky Hayward
ICEX, Spanish Institute of International Trade
Valderrama, S.L., Extra Virgin Olive Oils, www.valderrama.es
Photo credits for images of olive varieties: Isabel Trujillo and Diego Barranco. Dpto. Agronomía de la Universidad de Códoba/ICEX