Portuguese olive oils... Why are they among the best in the world?
Olive oil is composed mainly of mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which play an important role in preventing myocardial infarction or coronary heart disease because its consumption lowers the level of glucose and cholesterol (LDL) in the blood.
In addition, olive oil has an anticoagulant effect and therefore helps to better control blood pressure.
Rich in vitamins E, C, and polyphenols, olive oil also offers antioxidant properties often considered as a weapon against cell aging and cancers.
However, olive oil also contains harmful saturated fatty acids, but their level is much lower than that found in vegetable margarine or butter.
Olive oil is therefore nowadays recognized as an excellent product whose reasonable consumption has benefit effects on health.
★ The quality criteria of olive oil.
Vegetable fats generally come from seeds and are extracted using chemical solvents. In this sense, olive oil is unique because it comes from the juice of a fruit and is obtained by mechanical processes: the olives are transported directly from the olive grove to the press where they are cleaned before being ground and then centrifuged to extract the oil.
Refined olive oils are generally distinguished from virgin olive oils and among virgin olive oils, we also distinguish extra virgin olive oils.
- Refined olive oils. Don't get caught up in the words: refined olive oils are the very opposite of a natural product. These are virgin olive oils that are not suitable for consumption because of their high acidity level or a taste defect. They are refined by chemical processes or by heating to make them fit for consumption.
- Virgin olive oils. Virgin olive oils are obtained only by mechanical or physical processes. They do not undergo any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation, and filtration. Olive oils obtained by solvent, chemical or biochemical adjuvant are therefore excluded from this designation. This process offers a lower performance by extracting only 85% of the oil contained in the fruit. On the other hand, it guarantees better taste qualities and preserves nutrients, better, especially polyphenols that are benefic to health.
- Extra virgin olive oils. A distinction is then made between virgin olive oils with an acidity of at most 2g per 100g and extra virgin olive oils for which the acidity cannot exceed 0.8g per 100g.
In short, if you want a quality olive oil that has preserved all its qualities for your health, you should choose a virgin olive oil and then, depending on your taste, choose a very low acid extra virgin olive oil or a slightly more acid extra virgin olive oil.
★ The taste criteria of olive oil.
The taste of olive oil can vary infinitely, just like wine. Is the oil the result of a blending process or is it from a unique olive grove? Is the oil made from a single variety of olives or from several varieties? Were the oils harvested rather young and green or rather ripe? Was the pressing and extraction carried out in the hours following the harvest? All these variables have a decisive effect on the taste of olive oil.
The time of the olive harvest influences the taste qualities of the olive oil. There are generally 3 main categories.
The fruity green characterizes the oils from olives harvested a few days before their full maturity when their color changes from green to purple. They are often the most qualitative because they are the most aromatic and richest in polyphenols. Herbaceous sensations dominate In the nose and On the palate . It has aromas of artichoke, pepper and green fruit.
The ripe fruitiness is obtained with olives harvested ripe and black. The oil then has softer and rounder flavours on the palate, with aromas of almond, red or yellow fruits, lime blossom or floral aromas.
The black fruitiness is elaborated according to an ancestral method requiring the beginning of fermentation of the olives under controlled conditions. The result is a creamy oil, with particular aromas of cocoa, mushrooms and undergrowth, appreciated by some amateurs
The origin of the olives.
Most industrial olive oils are the result of blends of several oils from different regions (or even countries) and varieties, in order to get an acceptable quality and taste for as many people as possible, but therefore uniform. The latter are not necessarily of poor quality, but they generally lack character.
Other olive oils are produced at only a few dozen hectolitres. They come from olive trees producing the same variety of olive located on an exceptional terroir, are sometimes harvested by hand and pressed on the spot within an hour of their harvest. These olive oils are exceptional, rare and often expensive oils.
This is the case of this organic extra virgin olive oil from the century-old olive trees of a small organic farm located in the heart of the Alentejo, protected from any pollution.
This rare olive oil comes from 130 Galician olive trees. It is directly extracted from olives harvested by hand and pressed by mechanical means only.
A tasty olive oil with light hazelnut aromas and very low acidity <0.2%, which is a sign of its exceptional quality.
★ Olive oils from Portugal.
Today, if Portugal is a major producer of olive oil (4th in Europe and 8th in the world), the country is distinguished above all by the number of its producers: they are still more than 20,000.
This particular characteristic makes it possible to maintain production on a human scale, guaranteeing the diversity and uniqueness of Portuguese olive oils.
In fact, many Portuguese producers are awarded prizes every year in international competitions and it is not uncommon in recent years to see Portuguese olive oils take first place in international competitions from their neighbour, Spain.
Portugal has protected designations of origin for its olive oils. Six regions are entitled to these designations.
Trás-os-Montes is a region located in the North of Portugal, northeast of Porto. The cultivation of olive trees and the production of olive oil are concentrated in what is known as the "Hot Earth".
This is the region that produces the largest quantity of olive oil in Portugal, in a land made up of mountains, schist plateaus and valleys where the Douro flows.
In this region, the Santa Amaro olive grove has belonged to the same family for 8 generations. It produces an exceptional extra virgin olive oil that is awarded a prize every year in the most prestigious international competitions.
In the centre of Portugal is the Beira Interior region, which is characterised by great landscape contrasts. There are mainly traditional olive groves that cover the hills and river banks, such as the Tagus and its tributaries.
The Ribatejo stretches along the Tagus towards Lisbon. It is also a region where AOP olive oil is produced and where there are presses dating from the 12th and 13th centuries.
Moura, Alentejo Interior and Norte Alentejano
South of Lisbon is the Alentejo region, the region with the largest olive oil production in Portugal, where traditional, semi-intensive and intensive olive tree cultivation is practiced, with three protected designations of origin: Norte Alentejano, Moura and Alentejo Interior. Alentejo is the region of vast horizons, plains covered with cork oaks and olive trees as far as the eye can see. You will find there the famous olive oils Saloio, Triunfo and Santa Maria presented in a metal box, a Portuguese tradition but also a guarantee of better preservation of the oil.
★ How to use olive oil.
Heat destroys 5 to 30% of the polyphenols contained in olive oil. If it is not dramatic, it reduces its health benefits. Then use mainly your cold olive oil as a seasoning.
Some olive oils are real treasures with a rare and subtle taste. It would be sacrilege to warm it up! So consume it in the Portuguese style by dipping a piece of fresh bread in it, letting a drizzle over a slice of toasted bread still warm or over a slice of cod out of the oven where it was toasted on a bed of onions.