Discover Alentejo: Portugal’s Esteemed Wine Region Also Leads the Way in Olive Oil Production
The history of wine production in Alentejo is quite well-known, but the timeline of when olive oil production began here is a little more murky. Olive oil production is an ancestral tradition that dates back to the Romans and Phoenicians that brought for improved ways to plant, graft, and extract olive oil. In writing, Strabo, the Roman historian, mentioned Alentejo olive oil imported by Rome 2,000 years ago for its outstanding quality.
Portugal holds an esteemed spot in the top ten of largest olive oil producers. Alentejo, Portugal’s southern region, over 70% of domestic olive oil is produced. In the last 15 years, the region grew by 50,000 new hectares of olive groves, making its world reach for some of the most splendid flavor even larger.
Alentejo Olive Oil Varietals and Production
Like fine wine, olive oil is something that must exude quality. To create such impeccable flavors, Alentejo olive oil is extracted from the olives between the months of October and February during the ideal stage of maturity. This gives it a fruity yet mellow taste.
There are four traditional varietals used in the region:
As the most common varietal of olive in the country. Picked while unripe, it lends a green-apple fruitiness that’s slightly pungent and bitter. When it’s ripe, it has a nutty fruitiness and is sweet rather than bitter. It’s fascinating that the contrast between the flavors is so deep.
This olive creates olive oils that are pungent and bitter with hints of green grass and subtle sweetness.
– Cordovil de Serpa
With a high oleic acid content, this strong-flavored olive is a rustic choice for creating olive oils.
– Verdeal Alentejana
As a highly-adaptable varietal, this one matures late in the season. When the oil is extracted from it, it creates a very green, pungent, and bitter sensation when tasting.
In addition to the varietals, the trees themselves are important in their role for olive oil production in Alentejo. Traditional olive groves take the longest to build up, coming into production after 15 to 20 years. Some of them are over 100 years old. Intensive olive groves are planted in narrow rows, ready for production 5 to 7 years later and capable of production for decades. For speedier production, highly-intensive olive groves come into fruition after just 2 to 3 years.
The Sensory Experience of Tasting Alentejo Olive Oil
With many different tastes to explore, the best way to enjoy Alentejo olive oil is to use a dark blue glass with a lid. It’s best to not see the color of the olive oil to prevent it from influencing your perception of taste.
Temperature is important too, as it brings out the full sensation of the experience. By holding the base of the glass in your hand, you can bring it to the proper temperature of 82ºF (28ºC). Swirl it in the glass to release the volatile compounds, then lift the lid to smell the aroma.
Take in those scents, letting them linger in your nose with the cover back on before removing it once more to taste. Some will give you a peppery punch while others will have that green apple fruitiness. But all of the olive oils from Alentejo will surely impress your palate and make you realize that fresh ingredients drizzled with a hint of it are all that’s needed to make a 5-star meal.