Many people are surprised to learn that Spain is the world’s largest producer of olive oil and a typical harvest can yield almost a million tonnes, of which almost half comes from our Axarquia region.
Much of this is extra virgin olive oil, which is basically the juice of the pressed olives with the water removed. It is the highest grade and to qualify its acidity level must be less than 1%.
The village of Periana is surrounded by olive groves where the Verdial variety is grown producing an oil of the highest quality. The climate, soil, method of cultivation, and production processes all go to create “oro verde” or green gold. A golden yellow oil with intense bouquet and sweet fruity flavour, gentle on the palate, ideal as a dressing or for cooking.
The Periana Olive Oil Cooperative is situated in the centre of the village and has over 800 families as members who in turn look after over 300,000, centuries old, olive trees. We at Restaurante Cantueso are proud to be members of this organisation.
Periana Gold has been awarded many accolades from around the world and continues to be milled at low temperatures via a mechanical process and without the use of any chemical additives. Tours of the factory are possible and there is a small shop selling olive oil and associated products. Their website may be seen here.
Being close to the growing areas means that the olives can be transported to the mill in very short time, thus helping to keep the acidity down. Olives are a labour intensive crop with little assistance from mechanical aids. Whole families are engaged from the very young to grandparents all helping at different times in the growing cycle.
It is of course an unusual occupation in that there is only one “pay day” each year and then much depends on world prices, as this is nowadays an internationally traded commodity. Sadly the straightened times we live in have affected Spain’s olive growers with prices falling by as much as 25% last year. Over production and falling demand are blamed for this drop.
Arriving in Malaga province by air, you cannot fail to notice the vast areas of olives covering not only the flat lands but also the most severe slopes and always with never ending lines and geometric patterns. The thousand-year-old tree is at the heart of the provinces industry and also provides the key ingredient for Malaga’s distinctive cuisine.
Olive trees are well chronicled in the bible, Greek legends and elsewhere. It was of course an olive branch in the mouth of a dove that told Noah the flood was over, and winners at the Olympic games are crowned with a wreath of olive leaves. The Olive is the longest living tree known and can be up to a thousand years old, which is all the more remarkable when you consider that they live on sap from April to October. The harvest is normally between November and April.
In a similar way to the fig tree, olives seem to thrive when planted in between rocks or with their roots constrained, which considering the terrain in our valley is just as well.
In October it is a good time to make pickled or seasoned olives. The green fruit is not yet ready for the oil factory but can be “sweetened” to make the familiar tasty appetiser often given as tapas in bars. In years gone by stuffed and pitted olives were prepared by hand, but now one machine can do in an hour what previously took ten women a whole day.
Green Olives Andalucian style.
Take a quantity of olives and beat them with a tenderiser mallet or rolling pin. The idea is to break the skin to allow the alpechin to escape. This is a watery liquid and if it remains the olives will be acidic. Soak the broken fruit in a bowl of water for eight to ten days changing the water every day. When they are soft they can be stored in salt water, vinegar or olive oil ready to receive a marinade later.
Produce a marinade as follows:
Mix garlic, salt, oregano, ground pepper, red pepper and oranges and after straining the water add the marinade with fresh water sufficient to just cover the olives. Leave for a few days to absorb the flavour of the marinade. Quantities? Guesswork, according to how pickled you like your olives. A starting point is to make several strengths of marinade and then have a tasting session after a week or two.
Store with marinade and water liquid in glass preserving or recycled jars.
In the event that you don’t get around to preserving your own olives we at Restaurante Cantueso still sell boxes of marinated black olives.