Olive oil & Gastronomy
Olive oil is today synonymous with excellence and health. It is one of the essential staples of the Mediterranean diet, giving a touch of distinction to any dish in our kitchen.
The olive tree is an indelible treasure of the reality, identity and people of the province of Jaén. Not only for its economic importance, but because it has generated, through centuries, a specific culture which finds in this tree and fruit its raison d’être. Thus, we can talk of an olive tree culture, the ingredients of which are the landscapes, farmhouses (cortijos), oil mills (almazaras), popular festivals, etc.
The work for the olive growing and harvest, and the process for the extraction of the oil generate a whole world with a particular idiosyncrasy (personality traits, jargons, life-styles and habits, landscapes, models of economic growth, etc.).
Jaén, leading world olive oil producer, offers the visitor the best scenario for the practice of oleotourism, thanks to a varied offer related to the olive tree and oil: museums, farmhouses, oil mills, festivals, trade fairs, etc.
The olive tree is an arboreal species original from the east Mediterranean (Asia Minor), where it began to grow. The high value of its productions fostered the expansion of the olive tree to all the Mediterranean shores.
As a genuine Mediterranean tree, the olive tree adapts very well to rough atmospherical conditions, such as droughts, high temperatures and poor soils.
The olive tree blooms in late spring (April-May), and its fruit, the olive, grows during summer to its green ripening in early autumn (September-October). Next, the fruit grows wine-coloured (envero, or veraison) before it completes its physiological ripeness in the first months of winter.
The first written documents about the olive tree that we know of are some Mycenae clay tablets dating back to the time of the kingdom of Minos (2500 b. C.), which bear witness to the importance of olive oil in the economy of Crete.
The Greeks developed in their legislation protective measures and regulations to guarantee the growth of olive trees and punish those who may dare to uproot them. Later on, the Romans were big consumers of olives and olive oil from Hispania, particularly from Bética (Andalusia, nowadays).
Since ancient times, the olive tree has been considered in the Mediterranean Basin as a symbol of peace and friendship, and curative, healthy and religious virtues have been attributed to olive oil.
We do not have exact data about the introduction of the olive tree in Spain, though the most accepted thesis postulates that it was first grown in Spain by the Phoenicians or the Greeks. Nonetheless, its growth became important only after the arrival of Scipio (211 b. C.). During the Roman era, the commerce of the olive oil from Hispania expanded all throughout the Western Roman world. This is testified by the abundant amphora remnants with a Bética mark, used for the transportation of olive oil along the biggest European rivers: Rhône, Garonne, Rhin and High Danube.
However, the greatest part of the trade of olive oil from Bética was controlled and absorbed by the Roman population. Even today we can visit in Rome the Monte Testaccio, which is entirely composed of fragments of broken amphorae from Bética, perfectly recognizable by its origin mark, in which the capital of the Empire received its olive oil supply. This flourishing trade of olive oil from Hispania led to the expansion of the growing of olive groves all over the Betis valley (Guadalquivir, nowadays), which extended itself up to the hillsides of Sierra Morena. The oil mills concentrated in the centre of olive groves and the amphora industry developed in the river banks (mainly, Guadalquivir and Genil).
The importance of the olive industry is also documented under Visigothic rule, which witnessed an important development of the olive culture. Arab sources also evince the abundance and widespread existence of olive groves all throughout the Guadalquivir valley.
The importance given to the growth of the olive tree in Agricultura General, by Alonso de Herrera, reveals its great widespreading in the first half the 16th century. This is confirmed by the numerous olive grove remnants scattered all throughout the Spanish geography. The presence of old, isolated olive trees, or of irregular disseminated groups, bears witness to the old plantations.