Spanish olives are rated amongst the best in the world and Spain produces almost 30% of the world's olive oil and is responsible for almost half of the world's olive production, not surprising really as some of the best varieties of olive are found in Spain with a substantial quantity coming from Andalusia.
It was the Phoenicians who first brought the olive tree to Spain, but the Ancient Romans are credited with establishing vast farms of olives, often owned by absentee landlords who lived back in Rome. Although Italy produced its own olives, the Romans relied on Spain as a major supplier of olive oil to the Empire.
At this period green and black olives were cured in salt or brine and eaten both at grand Roman banquets as appetizers and by the common man as a breakfast snack with a hunk of bread.
The Moorish invasion of Spain in the 8th century AD developed and sustained the olive industry in Southern Spain, as it declined in many other parts of the former Roman Empire, introducing new varieties and production methods. 800 years later when the last of the Moors left Spain and it was ruled by Catholic kings, a taste for olive oil was considered to indicate suspicious sympathies for the old regime and lard was re-established as the principle cooking fat in all but the southern regions of Spain.
A handful of olives continued to be a common snack throughout the centuries in Southern Spain. When the tradition of tapas was born, as a snack to accompany a glass of wine in between meals, the first and simplest tapas would have been a slice of bread with a few olives, or a slice of ham
There are hundreds of varieties of olives in cultivation in Spain. These vary according to the region where they are grown and also how they're prepared.The Manzanilla and Queen olives are probably the most well known and popular olives.
The Manzanillas are grown almost everywhere in Spain and especially Andalusia. They are small and tender and are considered the perfect martini olive, they are also ideal for stuffing, the most popular stuffing being anchovies.
Queen olives are large, plump and fleshy and are grown in the Seville province of Andalusia. They are perfect for stuffing as they are large and fantastic in aroma and flavour and go really well with peppers, almonds or seafood.
The most important variety of olive is the Picual and is grown in the provinces of Jaen, Cordoba and Granada in Andalusia. This olive represents almost 50% of Spain's olive production and is delightfully peppery and fresh.
The Hojiblanca olive is a pure delight and the first olive I tried that I immediately liked due to its intense and diverse flavour - it tastes like lots of olives in one it is peppery, then fruity with traces of almonds and even grassy hints. The name comes from the leaves, hoja meaning leaf and blanca white and from a distance these trees look vary bright and almost silver.
Another of my recommendations is the Arbequina olive which comes from Aragon and Catalonia and is Spain's best loved olive. The fruit is small and delicate with lovely diverse flavours ranging from smoky and mild to earthy and fruity with hints of artichokes and even apple.
The Sierra Magina in the Jaen province of Andalusia is home to the beautifully dark Verdial olive which is quite large with a distinct fruity, yet spicy flavour. I would recommend this olive to a seasoned connoisseur as it is robust and commands respect.
The Picolimon olive is a great table olive with its juicy fullness and fresh citrus flavour. They are round and fleshy and go really well with nuts and dried fruit as an aperitif.
The Picudo olive with its lovely unique pointed end like a peak which is from where the name is derived, is generally found in the Andausian regions of Malaga, Jaen, Granada and especially Baena in Cordoba . It is a sweet and fruity olive with soft juicy flesh and makes for a popular table olive in both the green and black varieties.
Carried these back in my suitcase
Generally olives are harvested whilst still green and as a result they are not yet fully ripe and if eaten raw are very hard and bitter. Before bottling, they have to be 'cured' and this is where the fun begins when choosing your favourite type of olive. Initially the preparation for bottling begins with washing and then storing in brine for a long period of time to remove the bitterness and soften them.
During the curing process of green olives, the brine is often prepared with different herbs and aromatics for an exciting but subtly flavoured olive. In some cases families who have been curing their own olives for generations use carefully guarded secret recipes which results in a totally unique olive.
How olives are stuffed:
For centuries, olives were pitted and stuffed by hand. Today everything is done by machines. Sweet Spanish Pepper (pimiento) is the most common stuffing., however my personal favourites are stuffed with anchovies. After harvesting the peppers are placed in brine and shipped to the Seville area where the peppers are ground and mixed with gelling agents to make a reconstituted paste. The paste is then cut and formed into ribbons that are fed into pitting and stuffing machines. The machines pit the olive, take the pimiento and cut them into small pieces and stuff them into the olives all in one smooth operation. Over 1000 olives can be stuffed per hour.
Aceitunas- sabor de anchoa
Slow cooked chicken with olives and capersIngredients
4 chicken drumsticks
4 chicken thighs
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
1 garlic clove
1small jar/tin of Spanish green olives
small jar of capers
In a large cooking pot, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil and sear the chicken pieces until all sides have a brown, crisp sear.
While chicken is searing, cut the tomatoes and onion into large chunks, place in blender along with the garlic, and blend until it forms a thick sauce.
Once Chicken is done searing add the sauce and the remaining ingredients.
Bring to a boil, cover the pot and lower the temperature.
Simmer for two hours or until the chicken becomes tender.
Add salt and pepper to taste