Olive oil, the green gold of Spain
It was the Phoenicians, or perhaps the Greeks who brought them over to us. From the Romans to the Arabs, everyone has tended to them, turning the olive tree into a vertebrae of Spain’s landscape, from Andalusia to Navarra, from Comunidad Valenciana to Galicia.
There’s a saying in Spain which reads: one is never a prophet in one’s own land. In the case of olive oil this is so true that not on ly are we not prophets, we’re not disciples, apostles or even altar boys. Our country should take glory in being the first worldwide producer of this oil, doubling the results obtained by our most im me diate competitor, Italy. During the last decades our olive grove has experienced a silent revolution, thanks to which nowadays the production has increased
and is making better virgin olive oils. This increase poses another need, the need to market what is obtained in each harvest. Perhaps that virgin olive oil given to us with all their good intentions by some family member from the village, which ended up being the
sum of all the defects a virgin olive oil could have, with more than two degrees acidity, stale and rancid, is still in our collective memory. Because of that bad olive oil from before, many consumers today reject the good virgin olive oils of today. A consumer must know and appreciate the product in order for them to assume the higher price of quality. Initiatives like this article have in mind only to reconcile the Spanish consumer with its olive grove, whose oil the Greeks worshipped, granting Aristaeus, son of Apollo and Cyrene, the secrets of olive growing, up until the great Leonardo Da Vinci, who wrote that olives, polenta and frogs legs were all that was needed to feed a man, as did the Romans, Arabs and Christians.
In order to approach the world of olive oil it is essential to learn about its different quality ratings. In the year 2001, the European Union Council, through its Council Regulation 1513/2001, redefined the different types of products extracted from the olive, even though not all are marketable. The virgin olive oils are at the head of this ranking, and are obtained directly from the olive fruit using mechanical or physical procedures, without altering the olive’s juice. The Regulation especially excludes the use of chemicals and any mixture with other olive oils. With this definition, it is possible to assume that any non-edible oil meant for a refinery is as virgin as the exquisite and delicately bottled oil we consume. That is why there is a need to establish three different groups. When developing this classification, the law regards various chemical parameters. The most known are the acidity levels, but not because of this are they more important than for example the rate of peroxides, the presence of wax or the ultraviolet spectroscopy, just to mention a few. Thus, extra virgin olive oil will have irreproachable characteristics, with a free acidity, expressed in oleic acid, of less than or equal to 0,8% (0.8º) and so on throughout the twenty-nine chemical parameters established by the European Law. The second one is virgin olive oil, whose free acidity may not exceed 2 grams /100 grams (2º). The last one on this list is Lampante virgin oil. It gets its name from Roman times, because it was used as fuel for lamps. Its acidity level exceeds 2 degrees. The lampante oils are not meant for human consumption, therefore it is necessary to refine them in order to eliminate their defects. In the refinery, virgin oil looses most of its properties. After various procedures lampante virgin oil becomes a refined olive oil, a colourless, odourless and tasteless oily liquid which doesn’t exceed 0,3 degrees. These oils are then mixed with other virgin or extra virgin olive oils, obtaining the widely known 0,4º or 1º olive oils.
Olive pomace oils
At the beginning of the month of July in 2001, olive pomace oils gained fame, sadly thanks to benzopyrene. This oil is obtained by refining what is left of the olive after extracting the virgin oils. Due to innovations in this process, said leftovers, called alpeorujo, contain more humidity than the traditional pomace oil, which forced the need to dry them at higher temperatures, causing the appearance of benzopyrene. Faced with this situation, the drying process was altered, eliminating any health risks. Though, in spite of this change, the olive pomace oils sales never recovered. The European Council Regulation defines raw olive pomace oils as what is obtained when using solvents or physical methods, and the refined olive pomace oils as a result of refining raw pomace oil, whose free acidity levels cannot exceed 0,3 degrees. Lastly, olive pomace oils with an acidity of less than one degree is procured by mixing refined olive pomace oils with virgin olive oils.
Off the shelf
The European Commission established, through its Council Regulation 1019/2002, which oils are to be sold to the consumers and how they must be labelled. One of the objectives of this law, which came into effect in June 2002, was to eliminate false myths about olive oils, which grant more importance to the acidity than the quality of the product itself. As a consequence of this, labelling the fateful acidity levels such as “0,4º” and “1º” will not be allowed. Furthermore, with this new law, if one wants to point out the acidity levels, they will have to do so by printing it the same size and with the same importance as the rate of peroxides, the wax content or the absorbency in ultra-violet. In short, the consumer may purchase these products with the following marketing designations:
EXTRAVIRGIN OLIVE OIL: of top quality and obtained only by mechanical methods, pressing the olives, with no added chemical elements.
VIRGIN OLIVE OIL: less quality than the Extra, but obtain by the same methods.
OLIVE OIL: exclusively contains refined olive oils and virgin olive oils. This is how the oils which now lead the market will be called.
They are the classic “0,4º” and “1º”. Now they are known as “intense” and “mild”. Olive pomace oils: which only contains oils from the treating the product obtained after extracting the virgin olive oil, and mixed with virgin or extra virgin olive oils.
A MYRIAD OF COLOURS AND TASTES
Thanks to the fact that it has been grown for millenniums, olive trees have experienced numerous evolutions, adapting to the characteristics of each region. In the World Wide Catalogue of the year 2000, the International
Olive Council states that there are 139 different varieties cultivated worldwide. A global count could exceed 250. Each olive produces a different oil, forming a palette of colours with which the “almazara maestro” (the master of the olive mills) paints his oil. No variety is better than the other. The end quality depends on the manufacturing process. In our country there are 24 main varieties –those which grow vastly, spreading over at least one region-, out of which the following stand out:
– PICUAL: from Jaen. Very productive trees and a very stable oil.
– PICUDO: dominates the province of Cordoba thanks to its delicate aromas.
– CORNICABRA: typical of Ciudad Real and Toledo. Ideal for traditional oven dishes cooked in this region.
– HOJIBLANCA: its quality makes up for its low fruit production. Widely grown in Malaga, Cordoba and Sevilla.
– MORISCA: from Badajoz. Resists droughts very well, it can be used for the
mill or as table olives.
– EMPELTRE: grown in Teruel and Zaragoza. Its oils are highly valued.
– ARBEQUINA: identified with the olive groves in Catalonia, though due to high demand it is extending over to other regions. – BLANQUETA: the queen of Valencia and Alicante, which are regions without a strong olive grove name, but where excellent quality oils can be found.
Marketing its olive oil products is Spain’s Achilles’ heel. One of the paths chosen by this sector in order to achieve a more valued opinion from the consumers, has been to create Designations of Origin. The great results obtained have established an excellent precedent, and everyday more olive growers unite together to create and set a DO in motion, distinguishing their product depending on the specific characteristics created by their geographical origin.
This type of initiatives are born from within the sector. The public administrations watch over the fulfilment of all the requisites necessary for their recognition. The process ends when the European administration
includes the product in the Designation of Origin registry. Until that moment, the Dos are provisional. In the next tour we’ll look at those whose definitive certificate is impending.
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