Sep 07, 2020
Liquid gold has one name: Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Published in VOGUE and CNT. The essential cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet is rich in flavor, versatile and has the healthiest of attributes. Here, you'll find all the secrets.
Some people say it’s pure liquid gold and not just because of its attractive golden color. It has so many and such varied properties that they believe it’s the germ of life and health.
When it comes to Extra Virgin Olive Oil or AOVE, the essential cornerstone of the famous Mediterranean diet —yes, the one that UNESCO has declared Intangible Cultural Heritage—, people have only found good things about it from the immense variety of aromas and flavors to the extreme versatility when cooking with it in any cuisine. There’s no doubt about it: even the word “treasure” is not enough…
THE LOVELY POSTCARD OLIVE GROVE LANDSCAPE
Just like so many other foods people adore nowadays and even though the olive tradition in Spain existed much before the Romans reached its lands, they were the ones who made it so growing olives and transforming them would extend throughout the territory.
It was very likely also because of them that the olive tree is an identity mark of the unique Spanish landscape today. Just to get a better understanding, let’s talk about a few figures: more than 350 million olives are currently grown in Spain, the same ones that lead to approximately half of the olive oil produced anywhere in the world. What’s more: 46% of the production is exported, which makes Spain the main producer and exporter of olive oil in the entire planet.
That’s why it’s quite common when travelling the roads of regions like Andalusia, Extremadura and Castilla La Mancha to see that one-of-a-kind picture through the window composed of an indescribable sea of olive trees. It’s a living landscape that also changes at the hands of man: we’re talking about the immensity and magnitude of the most important forest ever created by human beings: as if nothing! In other words, we’re talking about what has become a key part of Spaniards’ very culture and way of life.
And understanding why Spain is such an ideal place for its cultivation is rather simple. To begin with, the geography is quite influential as it’s full of gentle mountainsides and the perfect hills for planting. Secondly, there’s the climate: with mild winters and warm, long summers, olive trees have found in its lands the perfect place to show off in a big way. To be certain of this, all you have to do is sample any of the many varieties: the great Spanish treasure is amazing and the 30 Protected Designations of Origin recognized throughout Spain are proof of such.
PICUAL, ARBEQUINA, HOJIBLANCA… LET’S TALK ABOUT VARIETY
Olive growing is so widespread across the Iberian Peninsula that one could draw a map of Spain with just the extremely wide variety of olives, many of them native varieties. Beginning with Andalusia, one of the main producers: over its more than 1.5 million hectares of olive grows, the queen is Picual, which is known for certain hints of fig and a slightly bitter spiciness. The olive grove landscape throughout its provinces of Jaen, Cordoba, Malaga, Seville, Cadiz and Granada has been standing tall for years, even becoming UNESCO Cultural Heritage.
Cornicabra, on the other hand, is the second most widely-grown variety in Spain: the autonomous region of Castilla La Mancha is the main producer and it stands out because of its fruity notes and thickness. On a more practical side: it’s often used in blends with other types of olives to create what are known as coupages.
The third most popular is Arbequina, which is particularly grown in Catalonia and is somewhat sweeter. Hojiblanca and Picudo are also at the top of the list of most widely-grown varieties in addition to others like Empeltre from Aragón and Lechín from Seville. In all —and it’s quite the figure— the list boasts 260 types of olives: a whole universe of flavors concentrated in these small fruits found on olive trees.
EVOO: HEALTH IN EVERY DROP
But if something should be noted about EVOO, it is that it preserves the properties and characteristics of the olives with which it is made intact.
The great care and dedication applied to the production process, in addition to the passion and professionalism of the producers to obtain an exceptional EVOO, raises their quality levels to the highest in history. And how is it achieved? Betting on being at the forefront of the trends of the international olive industry: more and more advanced cultivation systems are used that adapt techniques such as drip irrigation, and the techniques are more respectful with the environment. In addition, the control system to ensure the excellence of the product is very rigorous. Only in this way is it possible to obtain an EVOO with the maximum aromas and flavors that it can offer.
So much so, that the list of health benefits it entails is immense: extra virgin olive oil can boast of having antibacterial and anticancer properties, of helping to improve the health of the digestive system and, thanks to its high vitamin E indices, have excellent antioxidant properties. It is also very effective in reducing joint pain and its consumption is especially healthy in the prevention of both cardio-vascular diseases and loss of bone mass. To top off its benefits: it helps increase metabolic expenditure.
IN THE KITCHEN, A MUST
And now is the time to focus on the practical: once we are before this jewel of gastronomy, how can we apply it to our daily consumption and thus enjoy all its benefits? Well, the proposals are endless.
EVOO is perfect just as is whether it is to dress a salad, to have in the morning with toasted bread (add tomato for a classic Spanish breakfast!), to emulsify it or to use it in the canning of other foods.
When cooking, it is ideal for sautéing vegetables, giving the perfect touch to grilled fish or meat, to confit any food or even for frying.
In fact, even in the most avant-garde cuisine EVOO has managed to find its place: the most renowned Spanish chefs have opted to present extra virgin olive oil in multiple forms and textures, creating a revolution around it.
There is no doubt: EVOO is always present and there is no self-respecting Spanish kitchen that does not have it in it’s pantry.
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