The NOTEBOOK Madrid.comExpert facts from local expats since 2001
Shopping
Olive oil

Spain should be called “ The olive oil country”! You need only to look at the wide selection of olive oils in your local supermarket to see what an important part of daily life it is to Spaniards. There are many different qualities of olive oil, but it is not always easy to decide between the varieties, beliefs, and claims. Here is some information and advice to help you enjoy these flavorful oils and maybe become a bit of an expert at the same time.

Current Varieties
Spain is the largest producer of olives in the world. There are at least 262 varieties of olives recorded since the beginning of time. Some olives are grown simply to make olive oil and others to eat. The most common varieties today are Picual, Cornicabra, Hojiblanca, Picuda, Empeltre and Arbequina. These varieties fill most of today’s orchards because they have a high yield and also have distinctly different tastes. Other varieties Lechin, Manzxanilla and Morisca, are used because they are fast growing. Used together, they can be enjoyed for their particular taste or for their role as a stabiliser.
 Arbequina
Origin: Native to  Lerida and Tarragona, They are found today in other areas, in particular Andalusia and the regions of  Castile and  la Mancha.
Feature: they don’t really look like olives, but like an almond when they are dried. 
Flavour: Certainly the most fruity of all varieties.
Best Use: delicious in a vinaigrette, it makes an excellent base for a mayonnaise- based dressing. It is wonderful combination with Manchego cheese.
We suggest: Germanor and Gasull, both single variety oils.
 Cornicabra
Origin: an olive basically from the centre of Spain (around Madrid).
Feature: it gets its name from the shape of the leaf, which looks like a goat’s ear.
Flavour : an excellent all-purpose oil. Not too bitter or spicy or sweet, it has a slight odour of newly cut hay.
Best Use: great for frying 
We suggest: Lorietta.
 Empeltre
Origin: grown in the region of Zaragoza and Teruel but also a little bit in Mallorca, Minorca and Ibiza.
Flavour : this variety has a very mild taste.
Best Use: Great for desserts and makes a good replacement for butter in yoghurt cakes, sponge cakes, etc.
We suggest: Valdueña.
 Picual
Origin: this variety is mostly grown in the region of Jaen where the yields are much better than Greece and Italy combined.
Flavour : very typical, the Picual has a little bitterness but also a bit spicy. It is the olive you think of when you think about  the taste of olives. 
Best Use: Ideal to stir fry vegetables or for a soup base. It is used to make the famous Spanish dish “huevos fritos con chorizo”. 
We suggest: Huelma.
 Picuda 
Origin: from southeast of Cordoba and more particularly the region of Baena.
Flavour : The flavour is very mild with a light almond taste and the flavour of ripe fruit. It is less bitter and spicy than the Picual olive which is its closest neighbour.
Best Use: Picuda releases all its flavor in cold soups and gazpacho. It is also good for classic Spanish salads of lettuce, tomatoes and tuna. 
We suggest: Duke of Baena and all the products of the company Nuñez de Prado.
 Hojiblanca
Origin: an olive from the south of Spain grown basically in the region of Cordoba, Malaga and Seville.
Feature: it gets its name from the fact that the underside of the leaves are almost white.
Flavour: this variety is often used in combination with other varieties to tone down strong tasting oils, particularly Picual and Picuda. It is the one you find often in bottles. 

3 Levels of Quality
Selection of the right olive is the key to the final quality of the oil. The fruit must be absolutely perfect, without a blemish that would spoil fermentation and change the taste. To have the best quality, the oil must be made from fruit that has been picked, sorted, washed, and passed through the mill in a single day without ever having touched the ground. 

The oil with the best quality is Extra Virgin Olive Oil – It has a perfect aroma and taste. This oil has an acidity level of less that 0.8%. The oil comes from the first press of cold olives of perfect quality. 
Virgin Olive Oil – has a slightly imperfect aroma. It has an acidity level between 0.8 and 2 %. 
Burning Oil or Lamp Oil – is not edible in this state. This oil has an acidity level greater than 2%. To make it edible, it has to be further refined and mixed with virgin olive oil. This product is known as the standard “Olive Oil”.
Note: The level of acidity of an oil is only one way to distinguish between oils of greater or lesser quality. Less that 0.8% is the mark of a very good oil. And higher is a mediocre quality oil. These levels do not influence the taste.

Color, Taste and Clarity
The color of olive oil comes from the maturity of the fruit. The earlier the fruit is picked, the greener the oil will be. When the fruit is fully ripe, the oil will have a golden colour with a hint of olive flavour. An oil is the result of a blend of three individual olive tastes – the ones from the early, middle and late harvest. The producer plays with these in the quantities and types to get the results he desires. 
The sensations and harmonies that you can perceive in a quality oil are fruitiness, sweetness, spiciness, bitterness and almond flavour or herbs, etc. These are the opposite of a rancid , earthy or sulphur taste that are the marks of a lesser quality oil. 
But oil clarity is never synonymous with oil quality. Olive oil naturally is foggy. In the past, the market place gravitated towards clear oils, so producers decanted the oil after it left the mill and filtered it to remove impurities. Today, the tendency is the opposite. People think cloudy oil looks more natural, more unrefined. In the end, its all a case of marketing. 

Shelf Life of Oil
Olive oil will stay at its optimal flavour and quality for about 9-12 months. After this, the oil will “turn”, lose its colour and aroma. This is why we always recommend reading the label and looking for the expiration date whenever you buy olive oil. It is also helpful to store your oil in a dark place and away from heat. 

Top 5 Spanish Olive Oils
To do some olive oil taste testing, put a little of each oil into a small cup. Try each oil on a small piece of bread. To cleanse your mouth eat a bit of sliced apple or better yet some plain bread. On your marks, enjoy!
Abbae de Queiles: single variety Arbequina from the region of Navarre. They only make a small amount each year and a 500 ml bottle sells for about € 12.
Oronobus: single variety Picudo; the first oil made from olives pitted before going through the mill. A pure marvel that sells for € 8 for a 500ml bottle.
Marqués de Griñon: this company is well known for its wine. This oil is from the Toledo region and is a fruity oil made from three varieties: Arbequina, Pictual and the rare dry Manzanilla. A great oil priced at € 11.50 a bottle.
Marqués de Valdueza: this oil comes from Extremadura and is from three varieties of olives:  Arbequina, Picual and  Hojiblanca. It sells for € 10 for 500 ml.
Dauro: this has the reputation as the best oil in the world. Dauro oil comes in two  versions: a single variety Arbequina from Mallorca and also as a blend of Arbequina, Hojiblanca and Koroneiki olives. The Koroneiki is an olive of Greek origin. This oil sells for € 10-12 for a 500 ml bottle. 

Patrimonio Comunal Olivarero

More than 100 varieties of extra virgin olive oils. Here you will find the Vega Sicilia olive oil namely the Estonell Centenario. These bottles sell for more than € 24 per bottle.