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Olive Oil Region Alentejo
A few weeks ago I received an invitation of CEPAAL to visit various producers and learn about Portuguese olive oil. Reading the mail made me think „I really want to see how it is done“ and on the other hand „wait a minute, do I actually know of any good Portuguese olive oils?“ In the end I just gave it a go and came back pretty impressed and as a fan of these liquids. CEPAAL means centre for the study and promotion of olive oil from Alentejo. It is a non-profit association simply to grow awareness that they are actually a big olive oil producing nation.
In fact Alentejo olive oil is as good as Italian or Greek products, the thing is, nobody seems to know. I think that might be just a reflection of today’s overwhelming variety of every kind of product. The region of Alentejo has different ways of farming and growing methods, just like the personalities who stand behind each bottle. There is no right or wrong for me on how the trees grow and the oil is eventually sourced but from a personal point of view on how I imagine our future, it clearly pulls me towards one direction.
One very good thing first, all the 22 producers of CEPAAL work in organic farming which I very much appreciate but there are of course differences in size, growing or production matters. I was very lucky to be able to get an impression from small to medium and big producers. All of them had something going and had awesome oil but in the end I believe it is my guts that decide in terms of respectful sourcing.
So I made my way to Lisbon on a rainy December afternoon only equipped with my analog camera and a few rolls of film, as I thought a craft deserves to be captured in a certain way and look. After being warmly welcomed, we of course had to have a first taste while getting to know each other. We were led to Cafe Garrett that evening right in the heart of Lisbon to enjoy a fantastic and surprising olive oil pairing dinner. But see for yourself…
Leopoldo Garcia Calhau cooks in a kitchen that seems to be some kind of hidden gem in Lisbon. After walking inside, which actually means to go into the Teatro Nacional D. Maria II, you see just a few plain tables and a small kitchen. As we all know, one should not judge by the look especially when it comes to food but at this point I was not to clear about the direction yet. Leopoldo was asked to create a corresponding menu to eight different oils and I can tell you that he did. Every plate was a mirror of Portuguese food yet in a modern interpretation. The chef of course awoke my curiosity and I had to visit his working field. He told me that his cooking is never overdosed with too many ingredients but with a lot of emotions and memories. If you ask me, that is just the perfect way to go and clearly to distinguish from other chefs. Leopoldo left a strong impression on me and you will certainly see an inspired recipe on this blog soon.
Thanks for this delicious memory.
Did you know anything about growing olive trees and the way its juice becomes oil? I certainly have not but am using it on a daily basis too. These trees take years to grow in a natural environment. The picture underneath shows a tree with seven years of growing, pretty small ey? The older the trees get the more they change. Eventually the roots will get hollow and will start to twist, making it a home for several bats. Each tree shows its personality just like a wrinkled old face, strong in character.
The process of olive oil making may not be the most difficult one, as it is not to complicated but these few steps have to be serious to enhance the result. I guess it is the same with so many other things in live. Focus is needed in every activity.
Actually to put it in short terms, the olives are being mashed and in a centrifuge one will try to extract the oil from water. After this it will be filtered but the biggest impact on the flavor may be the blend of different olives. The taste of them is strongly related to the weather. To worm or cold will both result in quality loss but this is something a human can not stand above of.
Courela Do Zambujeiro
“Courela do Zambujeiro“ in Portuguese means “the Acre of the old olive-tree” the name of our property located at Redondo in Alentejo 130 km east of Lisbon. This farm was the very first on our list and in some ways my favorite too. This Quinta inserted in a Natural reserve was born from the encounter of Eduarda and Michel. The farm is the realization of a dream of one of the founders. They believe, who has tasted the olive oil of a craftsman feels the attention and the dedication he brought to his fabrication. This oil by its quality was only intended to his family and very close friends usage who valued the importance of this product for their food.
The family of Eduarda dedicates itself for more than hundred years to the production of the Port wine and also some olive oil in the region of Douro. The objective of Eduarda and Michel being to develop an organic farming in a land of protected nature. This task was facilitated by the knowledge acquired during the centuries by the family of Eduarda. „When we aquired this Quinta, an olive grove of 400-year-old trees already planted, we immediately found the flavors of our childhood and the desire to realize our dream and produce an excellent olive oil woke up in us.“
Of this dream the organic olive oil Courela do Zambujeiro was born, in the respect of tradition and cultural values of Alentejo, the environment and the earth. Oil so pure, so healthy. A very impressive statement of these two.
This farm certainly was another model, not only in size, management but also variety. “The Esporão project began in Alentejo from an irrepressible desire to make the finest wines.“ This is the basis of everything they do and something they extend to other products and regions. Everywhere, nature inspires them and helps to improve. These guys respect and protect it, building a more promising future. They aim to always operate in a responsible fashion. This responsibility is neither abstract nor merely collective: it is individual, including everyone who is involved with Esporão.
A natural product starts and also ends in a natural circle. Trees grow, olives are harvested and after being squeezed to olive oil. But it is only 25% of the olive, that is actually used for olive oil. So the rest of the fruits will be used as a fertilizer, the stones are dried to work as an energy resource for machines…and then a tree grows again, olives are harvested and squeezed to olive oil. Looking at this farm showed different perspectives of industrial farming but also natural growing. The awareness and coexistence with nature is a very healthy system I think. Growth in a limited way.
Just like wine, olive oil is tasted and can be put into different categories. To do so, you place different oils in a dark blue glass bulb in front of you to prevent any associations by the color. Also these bulbs are covered to maximize the smell. You take the covered glass in one hand and keep it there fore a minute. That enhances the taste but also the smell. After taking the lid off, you first smell the oil and might detect fruity or green notes for instance. Now you take a zip to cover your tongue and breath in as well. Some oils will just be really simple in taste or might develop some kind of spiciness after a bit. Others will directly reveal the flavor and green apple, almonds or fresh cut grass can be tasted but one thing being said, in the aspects of flavor there is neither good or bad.
What’s Extra Virgin?
Extra virgin is the highest quality and most expensive olive oil classification. It should have no defects and a flavor of fresh olives. It must be produced entirely by mechanical means without the use of any solvents, and under temperatures that will not degrade the oil. It is not easy to produce extra virgin olive oil. A producer must use fresh olives in good condition and monitor every step of the process with great care. Extra virgin olive oil doesn’t stay that way: Even in perfect storage conditions, the oil will degrade over time, so it’s important to enjoy it within its two-year shelf life.
I was surprised by the variety and was most impressed by the green tasting oils with a scent of bitter and spicy notes. No wonder Mediterranean cultures consume so much olive „juice“.
Sure we had some very tasty moments with different culinary experiences. There was Leopoldo with his modern traditions as well as very Portuguese dishes and all of them have been great and worth to stay in my memories. I enjoy these moments, when you can taste the dedication and the efforts that have been put into these dishes. The region of Alentejo of course knows what to do with the crafted olive oils and how to let it shine. So if you are wandering what to do for your next holiday, why not having a visit. Relaxation guaranteed.
My Tear Down
Alentejo is a region in Portugal, I barely knew anything about before. Walking through these olive groves will definitely stay in my memories as the wonderful flavor of these silky olive oils. I can only invite you to see it for yourself but for sure to get your hands on a bottle of their green gold. Azeite do Alentejo, as it is called, is a product which deserves to be experienced by more than only Brazilians, as they enjoy most of the exported oil. Its quality is outstanding and the cooking possibilities are endless, besides the healthy aspect, to only point that out too. The people here love their olive oil and you can clearly see that on the olive farms, restaurants and markets.
I will definitely try out to bring some Alentejo to my kitchen and will enjoy the tasty oil I brought with me.
Muito Obrigado CEPAAL!