Olive Oil from Spain
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Grades of Olive Oil
The health regulations in Spain define four distinct classes of olive oil:
- Virgin Olive Oil (Aceite de Oliva virgen)
- Oil extracted from olives by mechanical or other methods which do not modify it's basic properties. This results in a completely natural product which maintains the taste plus chemical and biological characteristics of the olive. Within the Virgin grade, there are actully three recognized quality levels:
- Extra (Extra): Oil of the best taste characteristics, and with an acidity level not exceeding 1%
- Average (Corriente): Oil with a good taste, and acidity levels not exceeding 3.3%
- Strong (Lampante): Inadequate taste or acidity levels above 3.3%
- Refined Olive Oil (Aceite de Oliva refinado)
- Oil obtained by refining virgin oil whose taste and/or acidity levels make it unsatisfactory for direct consumption. This is a healthy and perfectly acceptable food product, but it does not have the full taste of virgin olive oil.
- Olive Oil (Aceite de Oliva)
- This is made by blending both refined and virgin olive oil. This is very much a standard in the marketplace - its properties are somewhere between the previous two.
- Pomace Oil (Aceite de Orujo)
- Made by refining/processing olive oil pressings [pomace/marc/orujo]. The least expensive type, no real taste and used primarily for deep frying.
92% of the 2.1 million hectares (5.19 million acres) of olive groves which cover the Spanish countryside, are dedicated to oil production. The average annual production typically runs between 600,000 and 900,000 metric tons, 20% of which is exported.
Denominaciones de Origin (Olive Oil "Denominations")
The Instituto Nacional de Denominaciones de Origin (INDO), maintains the "Denominación de Origin" (DO) program for a broad range of agricultural products. The DO is basically a quality control program, designed to insure the both the origin of the product, as well as it's production methods, raw materials, etc.
The INDO recognizes four distinct DO certified olive oil producing areas:
- Les Garrigues
- Province of Lerida (or Lleida) in northeast Spain (Catalonia). Main olive type is "Arbequina" which constitutes 90% of the production - also authorized is the "Verdiel" variety. The oils are on the lighter side, with less than 0.5% acidity.
- Province of Tarragona, in northeast Spain just south of the Les Garrigues area. The main olive grown is "Arbequina" (90%) - also authorized are "Royal" and "Morrut". The oils are light, with less than 0.5% acidity.
- Sierra del Segura
- Province of Jaén in southern Spain (Andalucia). The main olive type is "Picual" (95%) - other authorized varieties include: "Verdala", "Royal", and "Manzanillo de Jaén". The oils are full bodied and tasty, with a maximum of 1% acidity.
- Province of Córdoba in southern Spain. The authorized olive varieties include: "Picuda" (AKA "Carrasqueña de Córdoba"), "Lechín", "Chorrío", "Pajarero", "Hojiblanco", and "Picual". There are two classes of oil produced here: "A" with a maximum acidity of 0.4%, and "B" with up to 1% acidity
- Newer denominations include:
- Priego de Córdoba
- Province of Córdoba (Andalucía). Authorized olive varieties: "Picuda", "Hojiblanca", and "Picual". Average annual production: 16.6 million kilos.
- Sierra Mágina
- Province of Jaén (Andalucía). Main olive variety is "Picual" (99%). Maximun acidity: 1%. Average annual production: 27 million kilos.
Health and Diet
Fats and oils are an essential part of a balanced diet. Olive oil is easily digested - it's quickly and completely absorbed by the system. Also trace components like chlorophyll help the absorption, and the aroma and taste stimulate the appetite - an important assist for the digestive process.
The circulatory system is aided by a diet which includes olive oil - reducing the risk of arterialsclerosis and other circulatory ailments. The non-saturated fats which make up olive oil, not only are cholesterol-free, but have actually been shown to reduce cholesterol levels.
Cooking with Olive Oil
Many of us think of olive oil only for salad dressing, but in fact it's a healthy and tasty substitute for butter, or vegetable oil in almost every aspect of cooking:
Sautèe/pan frying: There's nothing tastier than onions sautèed in olive oil or a nice slice of chicken breast pan fried to a golden brown .
Frying: An oil which can be reused repeatedly, without spoiling or loosing its taste. Food fried in olive oil is never greasy, or oily tasting.
Fish: A perfect combination with any fish dish. Splash some on the next time you bake a piece of fish.
Salads and Sauces: The only oil for any salad - oil and vinegar, oil and lemon, etc. Try it in mayonaise, or just pour a good squirt over those boiled or mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables, etc.
Breakfast: Sprinkle it over the morning slice of toast instead of butter. Great!
Important Note: There seem to be some strange rumors floating around about olive oil being unfit and/or unsafe for cooking. This is absolutely not true.