Sunday, September 21, 2014

What Makes Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil Different?

Did you know that Spain is the largest olive oil producer in the world? So often we think of olive oil as the stuff of the Italians. For many Americans, an Italian restaurant is the place where they were first introduced to that golden green liquid, as the bottle graced most checkered tablecloths before anyone of the U.S. began adding it to their own pantries.

Now, olive oil can be found in every large and small grocery store across the country. However, much of what is available is far from the fresh, high quality oil that most of Europe enjoys. Spain produces the finest extra virgin olive oil in the world, but has had to work hard to let the world know this, and to cultivate an understanding that not all olive oil tastes the same. Extra virgin olive oil is of greater quality, and must meet certain standards to carry this label.

We import a few of these very high quality extra virgin olive oils from Spain. One of these is Castillo de Canena, an oil that continues to win awards and accolades from all over the world. Castillo de Canena is part of an organization called Grandes Pagos de Olivar, an association of small olive oil producers who have banded together to export and promote their product overseas. A recent article from Foods from Spain discusses this association, and how these small producers maintain quality from field to table.
Producing extra virgin olive oil is a difficult and expensive process, but the resulting oil is well worth the effort. Extra virgin olive oil must meet certain requirements to call itself "extra virgin". The oil must have no more than 0.8% acidity and pass flavor and quality tests. What makes Castillo de Canena and others in the Grandes Pagos de Olivar association unique is that they label the year that each oil was harvested. Labeling wine with production year is common, but Castillo de Canena is one of the few to do this with olive oil. Freshness is key, and consuming the oil within two years of harvest assures that flavor and acidity aren't lost to oxidative damage and natural oil breakdown that happens over time on the shelf.

When you buy extra virgin olive oil from Spain, you're getting some of the very best! Be sure to check out Castillo de Canena on our producer page, and look for it on your local gourmet grocer's shelves.