Think of olives and you think of Spain. It is the World’s largest producer by a large margin. Olive trees are found in every part of the country but nearly half the crop comes from Andalucia alone. Seville, Cordoba, Jaen and Granada are the main centres. Here you can drive for three days or more and see nothing but a sea of olive trees. The other important areas for exported oil are Catalonia and Navarra in the north and Extremadura in the west.
Most of the olive groves in Spain are situated a long way from the sea, and in the summer months the sun beats down on a dry and dusty land. This heat results in an olive oil which is relatively sweet and golden in style. Depending on the variety of olive and the date of the harvest there may also be some bitterness and pepper.
Most of the olives for these oils are grown by small farmers and processed in the local co-operatives. From here the oil is sent to much larger secondary co-operatives where the oil is stored and blended. Much of it is sold to the big international packers and provides the base for many branded and own label oils. The best oils from family owned farms and small to medium-sized mills as well as the best of the co-operative oils are bottled on the spot and sold as premium oils under their own labels.
Each region has its own local varieties of olives and each give their own flavours to the oils. In the north Arbequina olives predominate giving sweetly nutty oils with just a touch of grassy apples and herbs. In central Andalucia Hojiblanca and Picudo offer lush tropical fruity flavours while in Jaen Picual adds bitterness, often with a flavour of catmint. In recent years the introduction of new varieties, modern techniques for cultivation and processing and earlier harvesting have led to an even wider range of tastes and flavours among Spanish oils.