Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Olives appear on tables in restaurants and when visiting friends; olive trees can be seen everywhere especially in rural areas and olive oil is used liberally in Portuguese cooking.

Olive Oil (Azeite) - Portuguese olive oil is aromatic, fruity, intensely flavoured and rich in colour. It is also cholesterol free and so a healthy choice for cooking, as long at the temperature is not too hot. You will see a large range of olive oils in every supermarket, ranging in price and of course, quality. Expect to pay €3 - €4 per litre for a good one.

Olive oil is great for salad dressing and adding to dips and sauces. Try it when making bread or pastry, it gives it a great, nutty flavour. In Wendy's Cookbook many recipes contain olive oil.

olive oil

Olives (Azeitonas) - Cured olives accompany nearly every meal in a traditional Portuguese home. Many are cured from their own olives picked in late autumn or early winter from their olive trees.

You will see olive groves dotting the landscape throughout Central Portugal, which can be anything from 10 hectare fields to a few trees in a family’s garden. Not so many towards the coast, as the temperatures are lower so the olives do not ripen. Oil and cured olives are widely produced throughout Portugal. 

Cured olives are normally soaked in water, salt and oregano, or to a special family recipe. Olive picking is a family/village event and you will see large nets layed under trees to catch the fruit as the tree is shaken or branches at cut and picked. Every village has their own way of hand picking olives and their way is always the best ! On a commencial level the trees are planted in rows to enable a tractor to drive between, with a lmachine that resenles a big claw, it grabs the trunk of the tree and shakes it. Not as efficiant has hand picking for each tree but much faster.

The olives are taken to the Olive Presses (Lagars) within 1-2 days of picking, anytime between September and December for grinding and filtering into Olive Oil. Most villages will have a press within a few kilometres. If you are going to get your own olives pressed, unless you take around 300Kilos, your bags will just be swapped for oil that has already pressed from someone else’s olives. If you are only pressing a small amount, it is best to get it done early in the season as the presses sometimes stop when they have pressed enough. Generally you will get back half the oil and the press takes the other half as payment. In lean production years, however, the press may buy your olives if you don’t want the oil yourself.

Warning - do not try to eat them off the tree, they need curing or pressing.