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Spanish Olive Oils

Spain is by far the world's biggest producer of olive oils, and some of the best oils are found here.
Olive groves appeared in Spain with the Phoenician and Greek settlers, and was further encouraged by Romans, who introduced new cultivation techniques to increase the production and quality for their own consumption in the Roman Empire. In later years, the Arabs continued olive oil production, perfecting pressing and storage processes. Today, olive groves have largely passed from family farms to larger companies, but the work is still a process requiring much manual labor and dependence on nature.

Olive oil is produced throughout Spain, but each region has its own varieties and styles. As with wine, olives are deeply affected by the soil and climate they are grown in. Some regions are particular famed for their balanced, full-bodied oils and have acquired DO (Denomination of Origin) status. In total Spain produces about a third of the world's total olive production, and around 80% is produced in Andalucia. Some of these olives are exported before they are pressed into oil, and most "Italian" olive oils don't use Italien olives, they mostly use olives that come from Andalucia.

The most important olive oil producing areas in Andalucia is in the province of Jaen, where the main olive type is Picual, and other authorized DO varieties include Verdala, Real and Manzanilla de Jaen, and in the province of Cordoba, where the authorized DO olive varieties include Oicuda, Pajarero and Hojiblanco. DO certified Andalucian olive oils tend to be full bodied and tasty. Catalonia also produces olive oil, which tends to be on the lighter side. The principal cultivation and production areas are Les Garrigues, in the province of Lerida, and Siurana, very nearby in the province of Tarragona.

The very best oils are labeled extra virgin or virgin, reflecting their maximum acidity and ideal pressing. Virgin oils can only be cold pressed and cannot be treated in any artificial way (only washing, decanting and filtration is allowed). Choosing Olive Oils come down to quality and flavor. Just as the characteristics of fine wines are governed by different grape varieties, environment and weather, so it is with the olive and its oils. The simplest way to taste an olive oil is to pour some onto a saucer and dip in some good crusty white bread. You must judge it by its flavor and bouquet only, not by its color. Once opened, your oil bottle or tin will keep for months if kept in a cool, dark place out of direct light. Delicate flavored oils should be consumed within a year, but fuller flavored and heavier, fruity oils can be kept for 2 to 3 years without fear. If your oil becomes to cold it will appear cloudy, this will disappear if you bring it gently back to room temperature, but for the same reason you should never keep olive oils in the refrigerator.

In some regions of Spain, especially in Andalucia, tour operators arrange olive oil tours, where you can visit various producers, see the olive trees and the mills, taste different quality of oils, and of course buy samples to bring back home.

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