Olive oil: what do you know about this “liquid gold”?

At Lisbon Cooking Academy we insist on keeping traditions alive by highlighting the Portuguese gastronomical heritage. To talk about Portuguese traditional recipes without considering the importance of olive oil (“Azeite”), would be a major disregard towards our cultural and historical roots.

What is the origin of this strong link between olive oil and the Portuguese gastronomical culture? Does Portugal produce olive oil? In what way is olive oil present in traditional Portuguese cuisine?

Olive oil is an essential ingredient, present in every one of the recipes that we include in our cooking classes, market tours, codfish classes, “petiscos” (snacks) and wine pairing experience, as well as in our reinvented Portuguese food classes at Lisbon Cooking Academy.

Understanding the history of this novel product will, undoubtedly, deepen one’s knowledge of Portuguese cuisine, our flavors, and our traditions.

With a coloration that can go from yellow to a rich and intense green, the oil that originates from the press of the fruit of the olive tree can also be described as the pure “juice” of the olive.

Along with the grains for producing bread and the grapes for wine, olive oil was one of the essential base ingredients, prevalent in the diet of the ancient western world.

During the 1st Millenium B.C., olive oil was marketed throughout the Mediterranean region by the Phoenicians, which inhabited the land now occupied by Lebanon, Syria and Northern Israel.

In addition to it’s known importance as a food base and energy source, olive oil was also used for lighting, in cosmetics (oils and perfumes) and even in funeral rituals, where it was utilized to embalm the deceased. In ancient Greece, where the cult of the body and the practice of sport was widespread, olive oil was applied to the skin of the athletes in order to reduce muscle fatigue and to relieve sprains, which resulted from intense physical activity.

During the Roman era, olive oil was mainly produced in Spain, Portugal, and Northern Africa and was later introduced in Great Britain, Germany, France and other parts of the empire.

After the harvest, the olives were washed, pitted, the pulp was pressed in baskets and then cleansed with water. The oil was separated and skimmed before being stored in large vats.

The Romans used olive oil in, pretty much, everything. From seasoning to sauces, soup, meat, fish, savory and sweet dishes. The fall of the Roman empire diminished its production in Italy, however, was continued throughout the Byzantine empire, Spain, Northern Africa and in the Middle East, after the Islamic conquests, initiated in the 7th Century A.D.

In the Middle Ages, production of olive oil in Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Greece increased, being heavily introduced in these country’s daily diets. During the Age of Discoveries, Portuguese and Spanish colonizers took new olive trees to South America, where in countries like Peru and Chile, the climate was very similar to that which was existed in the Mediterranean region. In these countries, the cultivation and harvest flourished successfully.

During the 18th and 19th century there was a major increase in production of olive oil, in order to keep up with popular demand. This growth was reversed by the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries, due to the introduction of new oils and fuels.

In 1955, the International Council of Olive Oil was created to regulate the quality standards of its production and commercialization. Among other things, it defined the percentages of oleic acid for, either, virgin or extra-virgin olive oils, intended for consumption.

Portuguese olives and olive oil

Portugal has approximately 30 varieties of autochthonous olive trees, perfectly balanced with the climate and the region of where they exist. Their adaptation features influence the organoleptic properties of the olive oil, making them seem fruity, mature, unripe, bitter, sweet or even spicy hot!

The most common varieties of olive produced in Portugal are Cordovil, Galega, Cobrançosa, and Verdeal.

Gallo, founded in 1919 by Victor Guedes and partner of Lisbon Cooking Academy, is the top Portuguese brand of olive oil in the world, present in all five continents and in over 40 countries.

Gallo olive oil is synonymous with quality and tradition. Their mission, for over 90 years, has been to integrate olive oil in the diet of every country in the world, informing consumers about the diversity of its usage, as well as all the benefits of this rich product. Towards this goal, they count on a specialized team that works, on a daily basis, with producers, presses, investigators, and blenders, always with the improvement of their own products in mind.


Olive oil in Portuguese gastronomy

At Lisbon Cooking Academy we try to remain faithful to what represents a true Portuguese table, where olive oil is present in almost every part of a meal, from the “couverts”, to the appetizers, to the main course and, in some cases, even in deserts!

Consumed raw, but also used to sweat or braise vegetables, to “confit” codfish, as a seasoning for fish, meat, seafood, and salad, it is impossible to consider the traditional Portuguese cuisine without including olive oil as an essential ingredient.

From “caldo verde” (green broth) to “bacalhau à brás” (codfish brás-style), from “amêijoas à bulhão pato” (bulhão pato clams) to “carne de porco à Alentejana” (Alentejo-style pork), from “cataplana de marisco” (seafood cataplana) to “biscoitos de azeite” (olive oil biscuits), theres always a comun denominator: olive oil!