In Portugal, the traces of the presence of the olive tree date back to the Bronze Age, but it was only in the 15th and 16th centuries that its cultivation became widespread throughout the country.
In the first decades of the 21st century, olive oil production in Portugal experienced an unprecedented phase in its history.
The regions of Trás-os-Montes and Alentejo represent the two sides of Portuguese olive growing, at a time when the quality of olive oil has revalued the image of the rural world.
Portugal differs in its olive oils in the regions of Trás-os-Montes, Beira Alta, Beira Baixa, Ribatejo, Norte Alentejano, Alentejano Interior and Moura, where there is the largest national cooperative of olive growers. But how does one distinguish olive oil after all? For the acidity, the aroma, the flavor that can be more fruity, bitter or spicy. Not so much by color, as in the past, so today the tests are done in dark glasses.
Portugal has always depended on imports to have olive oil on its plate. Today it has a level of self-sufficiency that exceeds 150 percent, as a result of the monoculture installed in the Alentejo, with more than three quarters of the national production. Where dry fields or sowing of cereals were once seen, there is now a landscape covered by extensive intensive or even intensive olive groves.
Portugal’s olive oil is of extraordinary quality. Pillar of healthy eating, prince of the Mediterranean diet, is a growing national treasure.
What better than to dip a piece of fresh bread on a plate of olive oil? Or the taste of toast, made from incandescent embers, drizzled with oil instead of butter? What greater pleasure is there than a sliver of cod just out of the oven where you roasted a bed of onion and oil? The Portuguese know that they don’t. Adding to all this, it is one of the central elements of the Mediterranean diet – UNESCO World Heritage and Intangible Humanity since 2013.
Each Portuguese consumes an average of eight liters of oil per year, even less so than Spaniards or Italians, who are not only the biggest consumers, but also the biggest producers.
The word olive comes from the Arabic word azzait, which literally means “olive juice”. From the olive grove, the olives are taken to the mill, where they are cleaned, before being crushed. Then there is the centrifugation that separates the oil from the water and olive pomace. The number of mills evolved in a proportionally opposite way to production. A decade ago, there were close to a thousand mills for a production that barely exceeded 50 thousand tons. Today there are about 500 mills scattered throughout the country. “We have a lot less mills, but the ones that are left are much more effective, more modern, better equipped.”
In Ancient Greece olive trees were venerated as sacred trees and the oil used in cooking, as an ointment or in lighting, and was and is true liquid gold. Now, no one can resist Portuguese olive oil.