Photo: Francis J. Cano–Andalucia, the region comprised of Spain’s eight southernmost provinces, is the largest producer of olive oil in the world. The province of Jaén alone is home to some 150 million olive trees. It is only natural that Andalusian cuisine should be defined, like no other in the entire Mediterranean, by the rich and varied use of olive oil. In other parts of the world olive oil is a condiment; here it’s a staple food that has sustained the people of Iberia for millennia. Poured into a h0llowed-out chunk of bread it’s “un hoyo de aceite,” “an oil hole,” which has often been the only thing standing between the Spanish peasantry and famine.
The Roman method of making olive oil–with conical millstones–was standard here until the early 1980’s when the “continuous” processing method, based on grinding the fruit and extruding the oil in a centrifuge, revolutionized the world of olive oil. The fruit could be processed faster and fresher and quality took a quantum leap. An arbequina oil from Cordoba’s Castillo de Canena was the big winner at the Fancy Food Show in Washington, D.C. in 2011, the first time a Spanish olive oil was so honored.
This video from the Culinary Institute of America takes us to the olive groves, restaurant kitchens and research orchards of Andalucia. They do a good job of showing that olive oil is more a way of life than a condiment.
Spanish grandmothers still pour olive oil in your ears to eliminate earwax.
P.S. Want to make “huevos fritos con ajos,” eggs deep fried in olive oil with sliced garlic?” Here’s the recipe.