There isn’t a home or professional kitchen in Spain that doesn’t stock olive oil. Its omnipresence is ubiquitous. Similar to the French passion for butter, we adore this unctuous, golden liquid!
One of the best ways to experience Spanish oil is during 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 jam is my adoring start of 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 acquires its greatest expression: even the smallest shabby bar serves up a fantastic olive oil.
Artisan olive oil in remote Andalucia: Sierra de Cadiz
Spanish olive oil production doesn’t always occur on large swaths of flat landscapes, as we tend to imagine; although this is the case in Sierra de Cadiz, barely forty five minutes away from where I live. Sierra de Cadiz only represents 2% of the total production, but their olives are fantastic! As a result of the steep slopes, only mules and muleteers can access the groves. Once picked, the olives are placed into one-bushel sacks (50 kilograms), and propped upon the mule. Each mule can carry up to three bushels when trekking down the mountain and into the mill.
If you’re keen for slightly spicy, fruity and unctuous olive oil, this is a good find!
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 shows beautifully, both on your nose and on your palate!
- Buy EVOI 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. 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 the 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 and abuse it, but don’t forget olive oil is fat and has to be consumed in moderation. It’s not a question of quantity, but quality. A small amount of high quality olive oil is enough to feel its perfume and delight your palate. As it so happens, I’m currently cleaning bullet tuna: a delicate blue fish associated to the tuna family and common in Andalucia. I’ll boil them in salt water for about ten minutes, drain and 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, as is, alongside a tall glass of vermouth!
In case you have any question regarding cooking and preparation methods don’t hesitate to ask.
If you can read Spanish, I suggest you to read this old post to learn about the entire production process, and this other one to know how an olive oil tasting is managed, alongside the various pairing possibilities depending on the type of olive.