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Olive Oil

It is well known that the cultivation of the olive tree is a fundamental activity in the history of Andalusia, tracing the production of olive oil to more than 3,000 years back in time; what is perhaps not so well known is the importance of this crop in the province Cadiz. Yet a walk through the land and forests along the river Guadalete, through several of the famous Pueblos Blancos (White Towns) would also be a tour through the history olive oil.

An example is the village of Olvera, which received its name from the Arabic wubira, referring to the abundant oliveras (olive groves) that existed there at the time of Al-Andalus. The quality and abundance of the oil in the area are reflected in various historical documents of the 18th century, and later in the 19th century, the Diccionario Geográfico Ilustrado (Illustrated Geographical Dictionary) speaks of the four oil mills found in Setenil de las Bodegas, but also mentions other towns, such as Zahara de la Sierra, which produced marvelous oil, "wild, robust, and fruity like no other."

However, what we might call the "culture of oil", and the definition of a "good oil" have varied over time. The knowledge and know-how have settled and evolved progressively to better - considerably improved - conditions over the past thirty years. The reality is that until relatively recently, the absence of a marketing approach and the lack of implementation of production methods based on modern technology, made it so that the first press oils basically remained in the mill owners’ homes or their immediate surroundings, while, in general, only the lower quality oils reached the market. Olive oil was sold in the area, largely in bulk, filling reusable containers, in local grocery or convenience stores.

In contrast, in present day the industry has undergone major renovation, without losing sight of the past and tradition, but with the use and widespread application of the latest technologies, transforming the mills into modern facilities with quality, hygiene, and optimal treatment of the fruit as a main objective.

Olive groves that mark their territory

While the olive groves of the Sierra de Cadiz (mountain region) make for less than 2% of national production, exceptional product quality and the link established with its land of origin, resulted in the recognition, in 2002, of the Sierra de Cádiz PDO (Protected Designation of Origin). It currently has more than 20,000 hectares of protected area, which turn out 85% of the total oil produced in the province of Cadiz. There are nine companies in the PDO (mills and packaging) and it is worth pointing out that in a short time it has increased the initial production nearly tenfold, with an average of 621 t in the past three seasons.

The region of the Sierra de Cadiz is divided between two geographical constitutions, separated by the river Guadalete. On one side are the mountains of Grazalema, and on the other, the northwestern area, where olive oil production is mainly concentrated. The municipalities found in the province of Cadiz are seven: Olvera, Algodonales, Setenil de las Bodegas, Zahara de la Sierra, Alcalá del Valle, El Gastor and Torrealháquime, and the protected area also includes two municipalities in the province of Seville: Coripe and Pruna.

The land conveys character…

This is an area with special environmental characteristics. The altitude is higher than in other parts of the province, reaching up to 1,800 m, and given the remoteness of the sea, is one of the coldest parts of the province. Rainfall is also substantial, with more than 600 mm per year.

The soils are poor and they support few crops, but the olive tree is ideal for areas like these, with dry land and steep mountainsides. These are areas where it is difficult to develop other crops, marginal land on steep and rocky ground. In general, farms are small, with old olive groves, most of the traditional type, and difficult to mechanize. Olive trees are often planted in groups of several feet, within 10 or 12 m frames, and many of them are over 50 years of age.

Tradition maintained

Depending on the different factors involved each year, the harvest takes place generally from November through to February or March. Even today mules are employed in plowing and land labors, because of the significant slopes that exist in many plots. Collection systems vary, but always tending to the traditional ways, in order to cause the least possible damage to the fruit. In the production and storage stage is where most developments are reflected, with the introduction of modern techniques and technology. However, it is precisely the element of traditional and rustic grove that bestows Cadiz oil its character and distinction. The tree produces in a more "relaxed", more natural way, and indeed, although there are more than 1,500 hectares officially certified and recognized as organic farming, almost all of the oil in the area is produced with practices that are quite similar the organic farming.

Varietal is the spice of life

What is more, Cadiz possesses a multi-varietal olive grove, which means it produces several types of olives, each a different fruit, with unique characteristics. These varietals are: Lechín de Sevilla, Manzanilla, Verdial de Huévar, Verdial de Cádiz, Hojiblanca, Picual, Alameña de Montilla, and Arbequina. The most prominent variety is the Lechín, which occupies almost half the planted area, and is therefore the one that provides a distinct character for the oils in the area.

In terms of organoleptic characteristics, it is generally established among experts that the aromas and flavors of the oils from the Sierra de Cadiz are more intense and varied than those obtained from intensive groves in the countryside. Without going, obviously, into the characteristics of each particular product, you can say that these oils vary in color from a greenish yellow to yellowish green. They are fresh, medium to intense in fruitiness, with notes of ripe or green olives, reminiscences of the forest and its herbs, or fruits like banana, apple and tomato. They also show a good balance between bitterness and pungency.
Within the Designation of Origin, and considering the specific area where the trees are found, there are three types of oil:

  • Algodonales-Zahara Blend of Lechín and Manzanilla varieties, with yellow-green color, fruity aroma of fresh cut grass, and green apple background. Slightly bitter and pungent.
  • Olvera Blend of Lechín, Manzanilla , Verdial and Alameño varieties. Yellowish green color, fresh scent of green leaves, herbs and fresh artichokes. Green olive flavor, slightly bitter and pungent.
  • Setenil de las Bodegas Blend of Lechín, Hojiblanca, Manzanilla and Picual varieties. Greenish yellow color, with the scent of fresh cut grass, apple and banana background. The flavor holds a slightly bitter and pungent taste of banana.

Uses

An essential part of the rich and varied cuisine of Cadiz, which well represents the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is present in a wide variety of dishes. The uses are many, but in general we can say that it is a highly recommended oil for frying, since the Lechín variety has a high content of polyphenols (antioxidants) which confers great stability, makes it stand high temperatures quite well, and allows for frying several times with the same oil. It can also, of course, be consumed raw, in salads and dressings of all kinds, to accompany roasted or salted fish, with boiled vegetables, etc...

 
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