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Spain’s Olive Oil Industry

14 Apr

Spain is the world’s largest producer of olive oil, producing twice as much as its greatest competitor, Italy. It’s also the second largest consumer per capita. Only the Greeks consume more than the Spanish, and I imagine they must use a lot of olive oil, because it’s customary in Spain to fry eggs and meat in a half-inch of olive oil and put a healthy portion on your salad. It also is eaten at breakfast with pan tumaca.

Admittedly, the olive oil most people in Spain use isn’t very high quality. It neither bad nor good, it’s just normal and incredibly cheap, apparently because they produce too much. A mediocre bottle of olive oil will cost you about 1 Euro in Spain. Even the stuff marked “extra-virgin” (whether it actually is, is another question) is only a 1-2 Euros in Spain. In America it’d be at least $10. For a higher-quality bottle you can pay about 3 Euros.

But artisan varieties, which are common in California, are actually quite hard to find in major cities. Olive oil in Spain is seen not as a luxury, but as a regular, daily product. Most of the production in Spain is done on a massive, industrial scale, and much of the olives are even imported from North Africa and the Middle East, where they are cheaper to grow. Spanish olive oil apparently suffers from high-acidity and much of it cannot be called “extra-virgin” on the international market, and their oil has less world-renowned reputation like Greek and Italian olive oil. Even so, Spain still grows some 260 varieties of olives and is, without a doubt, one of the most formidable olive oil producers in the world.

In smaller towns, especially in the south, there are still many traditional olive oil producers, but their future appears is bleak, as traditional methods of production have been shown to be unprofitable compared to industrial olive oil, which Spaniards are now used to buying. Still, the 6000 year old methods of traditional olive oil production are unlikely to disappear. Traditional olive oil production will likely persist as a vocational craft, similar to old-fashioned wine- and cheese-making methods.

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