Olives and Olive Oil - Key to Portugal’s culture and tables

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The people living in Portugal's green valleys and hills have harvested olives for several millennia, dating back to the time of the Romans. Olives are an integral part of Portugal's culture, landscape cuisine and traditions. Some say that the colors of the green in a Portuguese flag stands for olives, while the red is for wine. In many areas, the olive groves are growing near the vineyards. In fact, olive growing is a lot like grape growing. The variety of olive, the region in which it is grown and the climate of that region all contribute to each olive's unique taste and texture. In today's newsletter we hail the humble olive, giver of tasty and healthy olive oil. The Portuguese word for olive is "azeitona" and for olive oil, "azeite." Olive trees are "oliveiras" and an olive grove is an "olival". While most Americans will be surprised to learn that some of the world's best olive oil comes from Portugal, anyone who loves Portuguese food can explain why. The Portuguese are olive snobs and are very, very picky about their olive oil. While Americans shop for "virgin" or "extra virgin", Portuguese will inquire as to which region the olives were grown, and will look for acidity levels, color and brand names in their olive oils. And the Portuguese use olive oils as Americans use ketchup - an omnipresent condiment. The Portuguese put it on everything from vegetables to fish to salad and no table is complete without a "galheteiro"--oil and vinegar holder. A meal always includes a dish of olives, complete with a pottery dish for discarding the pits. Olive oil is also a vital ingredient in many dishes, including Refogado-- onions reduced in olive oil. Portuguese olive oil comes in different grades. The best is always the cold-pressed extra virgin. The better the quality, the better the flavor, texture and shelf life. Portugal is the 8th largest producer of olive oil in Europe, accounting for about 2 percent of consumption and more than 1 percent of production. Travelers to Portugal will see that the country's landscape is often defined by its olive groves from the wild hills of the Northeast, to the granite mountains of the Centro de Portugal region, to the open plains of the Alentejo. Each region has its own type of olives and its cuisine is influenced by the local variety. In the coastal Centro Region, a small, bitter black olive is grown, while in the Castelo Branco, they are plump and brown. The Alentejo region produces the marvelous green olive. A good cook who wants to recreate these regional flavors will have a shelf of different oils to do so. So let's take a tour of the olive growing regions of Portugal to learn how this little fruit defines an ancient land. The Harvest - The early harvest happens at the same time that grapes are harvested, and the main harvest is in the early spring. While many producers use machinery to pick the olives now, some still use the old-fashioned method of using long poles to shake the olives onto a cloth. Many communities in or near olive groves will have community feasts, parades and other festivities during harvest time. In early December the village of Penalva do Castelo, in Portugal's central region, has an annual olive harvest festival with food, music and fun More information: http://ocastendo.blogs.sapo.pt/488061.html Follow the trail of a tiny little fruit  More than wine in the Douro - Wine has always been a way of life at the Monte de S. Sebastião, but now olive oil is getting attention in this famous wine-producing region of the Douro River valley. Olive oil has been produced here for longer than wine and it is considered some of the best in the world. The climate here allows many fruits to thrive- apples, pears, cherries, oranges and figs do well here, along with chestnuts and almond trees. From the Monte S. Sebastião, the olive oil route goes to the historic town of Murça where the local olive growers have a museum. Travelers can dine on cod, rice and peasant bread with growers here. An olive oil tasting is open to the public, as well as wine tastings and an open house at harvest time.The olive oil routes in Trás-os-Montes. Alentejo Olive Oil route - Follow a tour from ancient farm to local lagar to see how the best olive oils in Portugal are made, and the ages old culture that cherished them. Confraria do Azeite da Cova da Beira (The Brotherhood of the Olive Oil) in Centro de Portugal Region In the town of Fundão, near Castelo Branco, the local Brotherhood of Olive Oil of olive oil offers tours of the olive presses. Museum of Olive Oil, Moura - This museum, in a former olive press known as Lagar de Varas, explains how olive oil was traditionally made. Museu do Azeite - Lagar de Varas do Fojo. Olive Oil Museum, Belmonte - Centro de Portugal Region. Mário Gomes Figueira Olive Oil Museum, Vila Franca da Serra Gouveia. The Brotherhood of the Olive Oil in Centro de Portugal Region In the town of Fundão, near Castelo Branco, the local Brotherhood of Olive Oil of olive oil offers tours of the olive presses., Vila Franca da Serra Gouveia. Palácio Visconde de Olivã Olive Oil Museum, Campo Maior - Alentejo  Places of Olive Interest - The village of São Gregório, in the Alentejo region, looks like a toy village with its tiny houses nestled close to one another. Each house is identified by the name of its former owner or the trade he practiced there-the Casa do Forno (the Oven House) or the Casa da Padaria (the Baker's House), for example. From here, visitors can tour the extensive local vineyards and the hills of the Serra da Ossa. The nearby village of Rio de Moinhos serves a wonderful local cheese and the favored cuisine here is honey, olive oil and lamb, accompanied by Borba, a wine produced from the local vineyards. Telheiro, another Alentejo village, is set among small farms where cork oaks and olive trees grow amidst wheat fields and pastureland. Vineyards here also produce a local wine. The village is charming, with an 18th-century fountain, old public washhouses with their large schist slabs, and a former olive oil press that is now a café-restaurant. The Convento (Convent) da Orada here was recently restored into a museum. Local handcrafts include woven baskets and objects made of cork.GET CLOSE TO THE OLIVE ACTION Many of the rural tourism offerings throughout Portugal are set on or near current or past olive farms and groves. Casas da Cabreira, Porto & North of Portugal Region - Casas da Cabreira offers travelers a variety of self-catering cottages in rural settings. Their villas and manor houses are often near olive producing regions, including one that was once an olive oil press. Casa do Olival in the Porto & North of Portugal Region. Casa da Azeitona, near Braga, Porto & North of Portugal Region. Casa Branca, Porto & North of Portugal Region - Once a barn with a winery in the basement. Casa do Rio Vez, near Braga, Porto & North of Portugal Region - This rural lodge was built in 196 from an old olive oil press. It sits on the River Vez. Casa Lagar da Alagoa, Serra da Estrela, Centro de Portugal Region - Situated in the heart of Serra da Estrela mountain range, this inn was created from an old water mill and olive press. Casa do Lagar, Coimbra, Centro de Portugal Region - Casa do Lagar, in the village of Bem da Fé, was built from a former olive oil factory. Monte Saraz, Monsaraz, Alentejo Region - Monte Saraz, a cluster of farmhouses below the medieval town of Monsaraz, sits amidst the olive trees and goatherds of the upper Alentejo plains. The arches of an old olive oil press encompass the swimming pool, and the olive tree garden provides shade from the ever-present sun. Quinta do Lagar (the Olive Inn), Lisbon Region - Quinta do Largar is an olive farm covering more than 40 acres, among the plains in the valley of the Tejo River. Olives were once pressed here in a stone tank. Today the farm produces other crops and is available to visitors who wish to stay in its inn and visit the museum which interprets the agricultural history and natural landscape of the region. The inn was constructed from small cottages that adjoin the farm and each cottage bears the name of its former purpose-- the Casa do Moleiro (House of the Miller), the Casa do Prior (House of the Priest), and the Casa do Mestre do Lagar (House of the Foreman of the Lagar). The Lagar was the building where tanks held the olives waited to be crushed.   Olive Presses pressed into serviceLagar Val dos Amores, Centro de Portugal Region - Near Serra da Estrela is this restaurant that is set in an old olive oil mill. Restaurante do Lagar Municipal, Centro de Portugal Region - The name of this restaurant, in the central town of Guarda, means city olive oil press, which is what it once was. Lagar`s, Amares - Braga, Porto & North of Portugal Region - This disco in the town of Ferreiros was once an olive oil press. From Olives to Brandy to EnergyThe Alcides Branco Company plans to build a distillery that will produce bagaço or grappa, a type of brandy, from olives grown in the Alentejo region. The first pressing of the olives will be turned in the brandy-also called whit brandy-and the remaining oil will be used to generate energy at a biomass plant in Vila Velha de Rodão. Olives by Region like Wine RegionsA new program has demarcated regions for the various olive oil producing areas in Portugal. This helps the consumer be assured of quality and know where the olives were grown.  Awards - At the Mario Solinas World Olive Oil competition, Azeite Passanha from the sunny hills of the Alentejo took third place, the first time for an olive oil from Portugal.

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