Spanish Olive Oil

Spanish Olive oil bearing tree resplendent in the afternoon sun

Spanish olive oil is one of Spains best kept secrets and an essential part of Spanish gastronomy. So much so that there is even a breakfast dish that is no more than bread and olive oil.


In common with other mediteranean countries (where 95% of the worlds olive oil is produced) a large part of Southern Spain is given over to cultivating olive groves.

The agricultural effort centers on three regions:

  • Andalucia
  • Castilla la Mancha
  • and Extremadura
The warm climates and the olive trees low demand for water make conditions ideal for the trees to produce olives for harvesting in early December each year. During this time its possible to see the groves full of people bent double collecting the fruit as it drops from the tree as mechanical shakers pull the branches to and fro. When the early winter evenings come the attention focuses to the "co operativos" (collectives or co operatives) where the fruit is graded and weighed.

Many farmers of the same village normally choose to pool the produce in order to split the transport costs of collecting the olives and taking them to the presses.

Today the majority (99%) of olive oil extraction and pressing is done by industrialised companies although in the villages themselves its rare to find a family that doesn't process its own, or buy in from neighbours, their olive oil.

Production, Extraction and grades:

Areas of Spain cultivating Olives

As with wine there are regions that have greater fame and a certain prestige for their olive oil and Jaen in Andalucia has this in Spanish olive oil circles.

The truth of the matter is that in this day and age the vast majority of the olives taken to the factories in Jaen come from far outside the province. Having said that anyone driving to Andalucia on the main A-4 motorway from Madrid will be assailed by the unique smell of olive oil presses as soon as they pass into Andalucia.

Within Spain, and indeed the rest of the world minus the USA, olive oil is broken down into four varieties as determined by the International olive oil council which is headquartered in Northern Madrid. These four varieties of Spanish olive oil are determined by

  • Extraction / pressing method
  • Acidity
  • Taste
The four grades being:
  1. Extra virgin olive oil
  2. Virgin olive oil
  3. Olive oil
  4. Olive pomace oil (Orujo de oliva)
Extra virgin olive oil:
This comes direct from the Olive being pulped and pressed and must have less than 0.8 degrees of acidity. At the same time the qualified tasters have to award a grade of 6.5 points or higher.

Virgin olive oil:
Not every olive can match the exacting standards of the aforementioned Extra virgin olive oil so a second category exists but without the "Extra" marking. For Virgin olive oil standards the acidity has to be less than 2.0 degrees and the judges award over 5.5 points.

Olive oil:
Plain old Spanish olive oil. Well not actually. Olive oil is comprised of any oil that doesn't meet any of the previous standards without first being treated either chemically, thermally or both. These oils are not judged by professional tasters but do have to conform to an acidity of less than 1.5 degrees and this can be achieved by the treatments or by adding Virgin olive oil.

Olive pomace oil:
This final class of Spanish olive oil is for those oils that are extracted chemically from the seeds, skins and leftovers from the previous extractions. Again it must meet the 1.5 degrees of acidity test.

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