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Do Oils Soak Up History? A Historic Tasting

Do Oils Soak Up History? A Historic Tasting

2017/11/05 - The organoleptic characteristics of great extra virgin olive oils are conditioned and influenced by the plant’s nature, the environment where it grows and the farming methods, understanding as such their genetic origin, agrological habitat and the cultivation techniques employed, respectively. Yet, let’s go one step beyond and boldly ask: will the anthropic environment that surrounds a plantation also influence the oils that are obtained in each area? Will the region’s human history leave an imprint on the nuances of one or another olive juice? Will the olive tree itself have been influenced by historical events that elapsed through the centuries? And, if so, could these nuances become apparent while conducting an olive oil tasting?

The exercise proposed consisted on tasting and analyzing four olive oils to then deliver a description of four places existing in the past, populated by different civilizations. The idea being to try and figure out to which place does each of the olive groves producing the oils belong, in order to see if these olive trees could have been imbued with history, and if history therefore becomes palpable in the nuances of each oil.

The first oil exhibited a ripe fruitiness reminiscent of fruits such as apples, grapes or pears, with hints of cinnamon and vanilla. A harmonious oil, soft and delicate with an extremely sweet entrance in mouth, subsequently delivering mild and balanced bitterness and pungency. This oil displays sweetness and harmony.

The second juice presented an intense green fruitiness with overtones of grass and the forest, delivering notes of artichoke and green almond, with thyme, rosemary and mint also being present in nose. A universe taken from the world of wild plants. It feels intense on the palate, with persistent and sharp retronasal notes of green almond and fennel, with medium pungency and bitterness that gain strength in mouth. A defiant oil with a strong personality.

Subsequently, I proceeded to describe two landscapes, two historical moments, pointing out that each oil had been extracted from olive groves located in those places.

The first olive grove grows in a quiet and peaceful place where Roman patricians rest calmly in their villas, surrounded with crops of vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees. A stunning valley overlooking the Mediterranean, exuding peace while its inhabitants enjoy the rise of the Roman Empire. It is the Roman province of Istria (currently, Croatia), during the 1st century.

The second olive grove is located on a mountain range, wild and having witnessed thousands of battles that dragged on for more than 200 years, the Arab and Christian wars, both fighting for their land, known as the Reconquest of Spain. The olive grove was located on the border, between two kingdoms, the Nasrid and the Castillian, subjected to continuous disputes and armed skirmishes. Those were the Sierras Subbéticas, a mountain range between Cordoba and Granada, during the troubled times of 15th century Al-Andalus.

The Longest Night
Continuing with the exercise, we discovered that the olive oil made with Nabali olives, said to be descendants of Gethsemaneolive trees in Jerusalem, exhibited a certain bitterness in mouth, with medium and persistent intensity… and one cannot help but remember that it was the very same place where Jesus of Nazareth spent his longest night … those where the olive trees over which the Prophet wept and those bitter tears irrigated the Holy Land at the dawn of our era…

We also tasted the Greek Koroneiki varietal, which came across as a robust oil with a strong personality, as robust and singular as were the ideas created within the Parthenon columns. This juice is complex in nose while extremely balanced in mouth, and weren’t Socrates, Plato or Aristotle indeed founders of balanced thought, whose writings paved the road for rational thinking and universal philosophy?

Let’s dream it could be so, and that oils are also paired with history, or perhaps it is history that is paired with the olive tree. Could it be that olea europaea has the innate ability to soak up the history that surrounds it? Could it be because olive trees are the only trees with souls? If olive trees have influenced their people’s history, couldn’t those people have influenced the nuances of those treasures with which it provides us every campaign, extra virgin olive oil, the most expressive sensory manifestation of all?

By José María Penco, Project Manager at AEMO

Illustrations by Carmen Bernáldez

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