Spain covers 85% of the Iberian Peninsula. It is a very large European country with 498,800 square kilometers (194,885 square miles) of land, of which one third is agricultural. Its alevation of 2,000 feet above sea level, is very favorable for the olive oil production.
Spain has high temperatures and low rainfalls. At the central part of the country, the winters are cold with freezing temperatures and in other parts the summer temperatures can reach the 120 F. With the Atlantic Ocean on the North and West and the Mediterranean Sea on the South, the temperatures are moderate and ideal for the olive production.
The country is the world’s number one olive oil producer and exporter, with 5 million acres of olive trees. The regions of Andalucia and Jaen produce 3/4 of the country’s olive oil. The consumption of olive oil in Spain is about 12 kilos per capita. The excess production is exported to other European countries.
The Andalucia region is Spain’s largest olive oil producing region, with primary variety the Piqual, which gives a large fruit with high content of oil. In many orchards, trees have multiple trunks, because a few trees were planted in the same hole. If a couple of trees died during the hot summers, a few would survived. When all trees grew, appeared like trees with many trunks.
The Arbequina is the primary growing variety, followed by other minor varieties in the Catalan region, which produces about 25,000 tons of olive oil yearly. 45% of it, is extra virgin olive oil and comes from the Arbequina variety. Many of small olive mills are in every region, operated co-operatively by the producer members.
South of the Catalan region there are orchards that have trees over 1,000 years old, with varieties such as Sevillanca, Farga and Valentin, producing for over 1,000 years. The production is low, the oil is of low quality and has to be refined.
In the Lerida region which is mostly orchards on steep hills, the olive variety grown is the Arbequina. The harvesting is done manually and the costs are high. Where there are some orchards on normal grounds, the harvesting with mechanical methods bring the costs down.
In 1902 the Olive Culture and Processing Research Station was established in Jaen and was dedicated to the improvement of producing and processing techniques for high quality olive oil.
The Institute of Agricultural Research and Technology in Mas Bove, Spain, is aiming to slowly replace old olive orchards with new irrigated ones and new varieties of high density, improving constantly the quality of the olive oil, by upgrading the methods of production.
The IOOC (International Olive Oil Council) in Madrid, Spain, is an organization watching and enforcing the rules between the member countries. Their focus is the promotion and protection of the image of the olive oil and labeling regulation, in an international level.
The quality of olive oil can be determined by its taste and aroma, which is difficult to be done in a laboratory. The human sensory evaluation is much more accurate and effective.
Spain as the world’s largest olive oil producer, is a valuable information source. The research at the University of Gordoba , Spain, gives information for producing high quality olive oil.