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TA STE M E DI T E R R A N E A N OL I V E OI L

P O R T U G A L


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The olive tree is typical of the Mediterranean area as it needs a lot of sun.

THE JUICE OF THE OLI V E

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oing for a drive through Portugal makes it quite clear about the significance that production of olive oil holds: there are olive trees everywhere! In total, there are some 350,000 hectares of olive trees growing all over the country! The knotty trunks of the olive trees with their dark crowns of leaves are a signature element of the landscape here. And it is no wonder that the olives feel right at home: the Mediterranean climate with its warm summers and mild winters is ideal for olives, as is the great number of annual hours of sunshine. The Portuguese word for olive oil is azeite. The word is derived from the Arabic az-zait, which literally means ‘juice of the olive’, and brings the unique character of olive oil to the fore: extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality juice of olives. And while other fats and oils are extracted by chemical processes, top quality olive oil may only be produced by mechanical means. In other words, olive oil is pure fruit juice.

For centuries, olive oil has been an important and self-evident element of everyday life in Portugal. It is an indispensable ingredient of Portuguese cuisine – for cooking, sautéing, marinating and seasoning. In some culinary cultures, salt and pepper or perhaps soy sauce will always be on the dining table; in Portugal it is a small jug of olive oil. And the famous Portuguese refogado – which is the foundation of many native dishes – would be impossible without olive oil: finely chopped onions and garlic are sautéed in it.

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A STAPLE OF THE DIET FOR MILLENNIA

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he earliest indication of the existence of olive trees is found in the fossil remains of a volcanic eruption on the Greek island of Santorini, which took place some time close to the year 37,000 BC. Less clear is at which point the wild olive tree became cultivated into the fruitful garden olive; most likely between 4000–3000 BC in the region known as the ‘fertile crescent’ (ancient Mesopotamia – an area including modern Iraq, Northern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan). In any event, olive oil quickly became such a staple of the diet that the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans spread cul-

1166

– YEAR OF THE OLDEST FORAL – AN OFFICIAL ROYAL DOCUMENT – MENTIONING OLIVE OIL PRODUCTION (FORAL OF ÉVORA, IN ALENTEJO).

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1894

– YEAR THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL PRIZE WAS WON BY A PORTUGUESE OLIVE OIL, AT THE UNIVERSAL EXHIBITION IN ANVERS (FRANCE).

1953

– RECORD-SETTING YEAR FOR PRODUCTION OF OLIVE OIL IN PORTUGAL, WITH A QUANTITY OF 121,802 TONS.

tivation of the olive tree into all provinces that they colonised. And even two thousand years ago in ancient Rome, the philosopher, historian and geographer Strabo mentioned the impressive olive oils of the Alentejo. Over the centuries, olive groves were widely planted in Portugal; at the beginning of the 14th century the olive tree achieved its widest range of distribution within the country. In the 1960s, consumption of olive oil declined appreciably. This was the beginning of the so-called ‘Age of Margarine’, which certainly hurt Portuguese olive oil production. It was not until the 1990s that the industry recovered, as olive oil became valued for its benefits to health. And then production doubled within the space of five years...

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PROMPTNESS IN THE PROCESSING AND TEMPER ATURE DURING THE EXTR ACTION ARE DECISIVE FACTORS IN THE QUALITY OF AN OLIVE OIL.

Stainless steel tank for the temperaturecontrolled storage of olive oil.

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The flavour of Portuguese olive oil is quite diverse, since there are countless different types of olives.

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OLIVE OIL IS PURE FRUIT JUICE! THE VARIETY OF OLIVE IS THUS THE CRUCIAL FACTOR IN AN OIL’S FL AVOUR.

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he diversity of Portuguese olive oils knows no end. The varieties of olive most widely propagated in Portugal are Galega, Cobrançosa, Cordovil, Verdeal and Madural. They are distinguished by a pleasant fruitiness, sweetness and a lightly nutty, almond-like flavour. And then there are some thirty more indigenous varieties with their differing qualities and characteristics, depending on the region and its prevalent microclimate. Olive oils can be monovarietal. The most common ones in Portugal are monovarietal Galega (sweet and apple flavour) and Cobrançosa (more intense and green). Nevertheless, blends are more common.

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OL I V E VA


The knotty trunks of olive trees with their dark crowns of leaves characterise the Portuguese landscape.

There are two types of blend: they can either come from olive groves in which two to four different varieties of olive tree are growing alongside each other, leading to a ‘natural’ mixture in a somewhat casual relationship. Or, small batches of monovarietal oils can be mixed together into a composition, in order to round off the flavour or accent distinct nuances. Here the differences of taste and intensity come to the foreground – not to say, though, that a blended olive oil usually has greater complexity of flavour than a monovarietal olive oil. Actually, the ancestral art of blending remains an important part of the traditional know-how of the Portuguese producers.

RIETIES

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PDO S

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lentejo is the most important region for production of olive oil in Portugal, supplying some 67% of all Portuguese olive oil, followed by TrĂĄs-os-Montes (15%) and Ribatejo (6%). There are six Protected Designations of Origin (PDO) for olive oil in Portugal, of which three are located in the Alentejo.

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There are three commercial grades of olive oil in the market: 1. EXTR A V IRGIN OLI V E OIL is the top quality classification. This is an oil without any defects, with an intense flavour and the aroma of olives. The maximum degree of acidity is .8%.

These protected designations of origin are realised only by top-quality oils, the virgin and extra virgin olive oils. The requirements for production of these high-quality oils stipulate that the oil may only be extracted from typical varieties of the region in pre-defined proportions, while the extraction and bottling are also made in the area.

2. V IRGI N OL I V E OIL is olive oil of good quality. It smells and tastes like olives. The maximum degree of acidity is 2.0%.

These quality categories are reflected in the European Union’s quality grades for olive oil as well.

3. OL I V E OI L Olive oil composed of refined olive oils and virgin olive oils is mostly refined oil that has been chemically treated and blended with virgin or extra virgin olive oil. It may have an acidity of up to 1.0%.


WHAT THE DESIGNATIONS SIGNIFY

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MAP

O

live oil from the PDO region Moura is produced from the varieties Cordovil, Galega and Verdeal. The oil from this region is most often very fruity, bitter and spicy, with a golden-green colour. In the PDO region Alentejo Interior a very fruity olive oil is produced. Its flavours of apples and figs make for a very sweet oil. Galega is the variety most commonly cultivated in the PDO region Norte Alentejano, along with the varieties Carrasquenha and Redondil. These olives yield an oil whose flavours are reminiscent of very ripe fruit. The dominant variety in the PDO region Ribatejo is the Galega olive. The oils from this region also tend to be rather sweet. Very complex olive oils come from the PDO region Beira Interior, where the predominant variety is Galega. Further north, the varieties Carrasquenha, Cobrancosa and Cornicabra are also cultivated. In the PDO region Trรกs-os-Montes the dominant varieties are the Madural, Cobrancosa and Verdeal, which yield very complex nutty olive oils, rather sweet but at the same time pungent and bitter of flavour.

PDO Azeites do Ribatejo PDO Azeites do Norte Alentejano PDO Azeites do Trรกs-os-Montes PDO Azeites da Beria Alta PDO Azeites da Beria Baixa

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PDO Azeites do Alentejo Interior PDO Azeites de Moura

PORTUGA L


ALENTEJO

OLIVE OIL IS LIKE THE TRUTH: IT ALWAYS RISES TO THE TOP.

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PRODUC HOW OLI V E OIL IS M A DE

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he olives are harvested between October and January. The individual degree of ripeness is a deciding factor in the olive oil flavour: Green olives produce greener, spicier and more intense olive oils, while ripped olives produce sweet and mild flavour olive oils. The olives can be harvested in three distinct ways, depending of the varieties, type of grove and soil slopes: manual harvesting involves placing a net or a cloth underneath the tree and striking the branches with sticks, mechanical shakers mounted behind tractors can be used for orchards that are planted either in a high-density or traditional configuration and harvester machines can be used for super high-density orchards.

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After the harvest, the olives should be processed immediately: they are first washed, and then chopped (including the pits) in a stone or metal oil mill. This produces a pulpy mass – a sort of mash -– which is then actively stirred and heated up to 30ºC (27ºC for cold extracted olive oils), so that the drops of olive oil cling together and can be extracted. Finally the pulp is agitated in a centrifuge, which separates the solid mass and the remaining water from the fruit juice of the olives – the olive oil. In a second round with the centrifuge, the last remaining water is removed – the entire process takes from 30–40 minutes. If the fruits are healthy and fresh, the quicker the olives are processed, the higher degree of quality an oil will have. Ideally no more than twenty four hours should elapse between the harvesting and the processing.


TION

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OLIVE OIL BY THE NUMBERS

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90,000 8 DESIGNATIONS TONS LITRES

6 IS THE NUMBER OF THE PROTECTED DESIGNATIONS OF ORIGIN FOR OLIVE OIL IN PORTUGAL, NAMELY: AZEITE DO NORTE ALENTEJANO, AZEITE DE MOURA, AZEITE ALENTEJO INTERIOR, AZEITE DE TRÁS-OS-MONTES, AZEITE DO RIBATEJO AND AZEITE DA BEIRA INTERIOR.

OF OLIVE OIL ARE PRODUCED ANNUALLY IN PORTUGAL, WHICH MAKES THE COUNTRY THE FOURTH LARGEST PRODUCER IN EUROPE, AND THE SEVENTH LARGEST IN THE WORLD.

PER PERSON IS THE ANNUAL PORTUGUESE CONSUMPTION. IN COMPARISON, THE GERMANS CONSUME .8 LITRES PER HEAD ANNUALLY. WORLD CHAMPIONS ARE THE GREEKS, WITH A PROUD 20 LITRES PER PERSON PER YEAR.

FA C T S   & 

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2,850 YEARS

OLD – WHICH IS OLD, EVEN FOR A TREE! THIS ELDEST OF PORTUGUESE OLIVE TREES STANDS IN THE TOWN OF SANTA IRA DE AZÓIA AND HAS A TRUNK THAT MEASURES SOME TEN METRES IN DIAMETER.

5.5 KG

OF OLIVES ARE NEEDED IN ORDER FOR A LITRE OF THE FINEST OLIVE OIL TO BE EXTRACTED.

F IGU R ES 17


OLIVE GROVES ARE AN EVER-PRESENT HALLMARK OF THE PORTUGUESE L ANDSCAPE.

Olive oil is customarily sampled in a blue and bulbous glass.


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compensated

www.tasting-mediterranean.eu

CAMPAIGN FINANCED WITH THE CONTRIBUTION OF THE EUROPEAN UNION AND PORTUGAL

More Information: Casa Do Azeite – Portuguese Olive Oil Association: www.casadoazeite.pt

Taste Mediterranean - Olive Oil (EN)  
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