Un Mar de Olivos

13 May

As you climb to the top of Santa Catalina Castle in Jaén captial, the views are breathtaking. Below lies the compact city with its high rise buildings, nestled in between the sprawling hills of olive trees. The sheer number of olive trees engulfing the countryside, clinging to steep mountains and forming neat, clean lines for miles, is indescribable. And from this vantage point, it’s easy to see why Jaén is the world capital of olive oil. In fact, I’m not sure how I have spent nearly 8 months here in Jaén without commenting on what keeps the city thriving.

But in all reality, olives are more than a source of income here. They’re a way of life. There are olives for snacking as you sit around at the bar. There are stuffed olives, spicy olives, pitted olives, round olives, oval olives – more olives varieties than I knew existed. My body wash is olive scented, my lotion is made of olives and I even brush my teeth with olive toothpaste. (ok, just kidding about the toothpaste part, but you get the point.)

And most important is the product that comes from the olives: aceite (olive oil). What would Spanish cooking be without olive oil? For breakfast there is toast drenched with olive oil and tomatoes. For salads there is olive oil, not ranch or italian dressing. Your sandwich is a little dry? Why not put a little olive oil on it? And olive oil is essential to some of the best and most traditional Spanish food, like gaspacho soup, or the spanish tortilla.

But what struck me the most upon arriving was the sheer amount of oil that is used in cooking. Coming from the U.S., where olive oil is often tossed aside for more affordable products like butter, I used olive oil sparingly. A few drops on my salad, a few drops for cooking some veggies. However I watched on as my roommates dumped olive oil on everything – bottle after bottle being piled up in the recycling.

So now my new quest is to embrace olive oil like a Spaniard and I’ve got just the thing to help me get started: a 5-liter jug of olive oil (about 1.3 gallons). A gift from the director of my department at school, the jug of olive oil came from his very own olive trees. After sending all the olives to a cooperative to be turned to olive oil, he had the opportunity to receive his payments in cash or olive oil. Lucky for me and my other co-workers, he chose olive oil.

My Lesson of the Day: For an olive oil to be labeled ‘Extra Virgin’ (the highest classification of oil) it must be able to meet more that 20 standards, including a taste test by the International Olive Council.

Advertisements

One Response to “Un Mar de Olivos”

  1. Andrew Petcher June 1, 2011 at 10:44 am #

    Nice post. I have just returned from Spain and whilst there drove from Merida to Ciudad Real and I was stunned by the number of olive trees stretching for miles and miles and miles. It got me wondering how they harvest them all but it explained why every cafe and bar always provides a dish of olives with a glass of wine!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: