How is olive oil produced, and how many categories of olive oil are there?
Olive oil is a liquid obtained from olives (the fruit of Olea europaea tree; family Oleaceae), a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin. In this blog we will introduce you to the history of olive oil, the variety of olives, how olive oil is produced, and the categories of quality of olive oils with a focus on the olive oil in Cadiz.
Origin of the olive oil and the olive tree
Olive trees were originally from the Eastern Mediterranean, Syria and Iraq areas. The Phoenicians and Greeks exported the olive trees to the rest of the Mediterranean. Olive cultivation expanded considerably with the Romans, who also improved the techniques of oil production. Olive oil from Hispania, especially in Southern Spain, was highly regarded and considered to be of superior quality throughout the Roman Empire.
The Arabs continued perfecting the technique of olive oil production. Spaniards use olive oil for almost everything. A staple for food, skin, perfume, medicine, to preserve food, etc. Until recently olive oil was used to preserve food products and nowadays is still used to cover some cheeses to add some complexity. As a result of a stable, thousand-year-old tradition, today Spain is the major producer and exporter of olive oil in the world. Just Jaen alone, a single province in Southern Spain, produces more olive oil than the second producer in the world, Italy. Olive oil is the biggest fruit crop in the world.
Nevertheless, until a few years ago, Spanish olive oil was relatively unknown since almost all of it was sold by bulk and packaged outside the country. Today, gradually, oil producers are starting to package Olive Oil with their own names. Maybe you will start receiving more and more oil from Spain.
If you are wondering which countries produces the best olive oils in the world, the answer is Italy and Spain. Click here if you want to learn more.
Types of olives
In the world some professionals say that there are over 2000 varieties of olives. Some olive varieties are similar while others are very different. They have different looks as well as growing characteristics and preferences. Their olives vary in size, oil content, taste, chemical characteristics, ripening time, and many other factors. Here in Spain we use around 80 varieties. Just in the mountain system of Cadiz province alone you will find that they grow 20 different varieties of olives. Varieties like Lechín and Manzanilla de Zahara are varieties endemic to this mountain system.
How are olives used
To produce olive oil the olives have to be picked up from the tree first. There are two ways to pick them up, manually or with machinery. If you use machinery to pick them up the machine will grab the tree and shake it to force the olives to fall to either the umbrella that the machine holds or to the net that people would have set up beforehand.
If you are picking the olives manually, traditionally, the olive pickers have to set up the net under the olive and then with a stick will hit the branches like if they were brushing the branch to force the olives to fall but to prevent harming the tree.
Olives are not tasty if taken and eaten straight from the tree. To be able to eat them you have to leave it in water and change the water several times. After that you can process them and marinate them. The type of marinating is dependent on the variety of olive.
To produce olive oil they will take the olives to an olive mill. Here they will put the the olives in a machine which will do the whole process. They must take the olives as soon as possible and not from the ground, as olives start fermenting very quickly, around 6 hours after falling from the tree.
First part of the process consists of taking the leaves and branches off and washing the olives. Farmers mix these leaves and branches with animal feed to feed their cattle. The olives head to a centrifugal machine which will take the oil juice apart from the pip and the skin. Industrially, to extract the olive oil the mills centrifugate and do not press anymore. The skin produces “orujo”, a low quality oil. The olive pips are used to exfoliate the skin in creams. Pips and skin can also produce energy.
Once we have the olive juice we pass the liquid through a machine which will keep the oil at less than 28ºC. This helps to extract less oil but with better quality (labelled as cold-extracted).
This oil juice passes through a centrifugal machine which runs at ~4500rpm to separate the olive oil from the water. Then the oil is left to set and the solids and water to lay at the bottom. When the bottom of the container opens only the water and solids leave the container.
The oil is then kept in a sealed container where no air, light or temperature variation will affect the quality of the olive oil.
Only around a 16% of the mass of the olive from the beginning will actually become olive oil.
Categories of Olive oil
To differentiate the different categories of olive oil, the experts have to look at the whole process, the aromas and characteristics of the olives without noticeable defects, and the acidity.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This is the best quality of oil. Of all the olive oil produced in Andalusia, only 20% enters within this category. It is produced with only physical and mechanical processes and full of aromas without any defects.
Virgin Olive Oil
If the extra virgin olive oil spends too much time in the bottle or in the industry, the aromas and characteristics are not the same. As well, if the acidity of extra virgin olive oil does not surpass a certain amount then the quality of the olive oil goes down becoming Virgin olive oil. To enter this category the olive oil produced must come from only physical and mechanical processes.
Second centrifugation enters this category as the olive oil produced is poorer quality. Older unsold bottled oil is also sent back to the oil factory and mixed with better quality oil and other chemicals to improve the acidity to enter this quality.
Full day tours in Vejer de la Frontera and Cadiz province
If you are looking for Andalusian culinary food, cultural and Sherry wine experiences for sightseeing Cadiz province, then keep reading. I will now take advantage to show off to you the great food tours in Vejer de la Frontera and throughout Cadiz province that we do. Officially, Vejer de la Frontera is one of the most beautiful villages of Spain, you should come and meet us!
Cultural and culinary food tours
If you want to learn the whole process of the Almadraba and Bluefin tuna in Cadiz province check our Bluefin tuna tour. You will learn the history of Bluefin tuna in the area since Phoenician times. You will go in a private boat ride to visit the Almadraba (if you are lucky it may be active); visit a local food market; and taste different parts of bluefin tuna in all ways, salt-dried, grilled, raw.
If you want to learn more about Vejer de la Frontera, its traditions and gastronomy book our Sherry & Tapas tour! Learn about sherry wine, wine tastings, and how to pair it with traditional gourmet food from the area. Taste different types of Spanish Sherry wines and local food like bluefin tuna, bull meat, salmorejo, eggplant with honey and pinenuts, etc. The tour includes 5 tapas and 5 Andalusian wines/Sherry wines.
If you would like to visit other beautiful white towns like Vejer, we can do a tour of the white towns in Cadiz province. On the other hand we can mix a visit to a beautiful white village with a visit to an olive oil mill. Or you can choose to do a private tour that we can design especially for you based on your interests. Come and join Explore la Tierra in Vejer de la Frontera, Cadiz, Spain!
Our latest addition is our become an artisan for one day tour. Make your own cheese and your own leather souvenir in Ubrique and enjoy its great history and panoramic views. This white village is famous worldwide for its importance for the international leather companies.
Sherry wine tours
Would you like to learn more about Sherry wine and immerse yourself in the local culture and traditions? If you want to learn and experience it with the company of a local guide and turn your visit to Cadiz into an exciting culinary adventure, book with us. Sherry wine love is very contagious, surely you will also become one!
If you have your own transport we can accompany you while learning about Sherry. Enjoy the best Sherry bodega tours, local culture and traditions and the local gastronomy. In case you do not have a car we can arrange transport, restaurant and the rest of your trip for you.
If you would like to learn all about Jerez-Sherry-Xeres D.O. then join us for our Ultimate Sherry wine Tasting tour. We can design a private tour just for you and your family.
If you are staying in Vejer de la Frontera or within Cadiz province we can organize a private Sherry wine tasting with local gourmet tapas for your group. We will go to your place and do a Sherry wine or Andalusian wine tasting for you privately. We can focus on premium Sherries; VORS and premium Sherries; or Andalusian wines in case you do not like Sherry wine.