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Portugal’s Alentejo has amazing olives and world-class olive oil

The Alentejo produces world-class olive oil, that’s because In Portugal’s Alentejo – the rolling plains are dotted with groves of olives, fields of wine, and forests of cork. The Alentejo has some great wines, world-class, but its olive oils are some of the best anywhere too. In the Alentejo, olives have been cultivated for millennia, at least since the time of the Romans.  Today, olives are part of the Alentejo’s culture, landscape, cuisine and heritage.  The Portuguese call olives azeitonas, and olive oil azeite. Olive trees are oliveiras, and the olive grove is an olival. Portugal is the seventh largest olive oil producer in the world and the fourth biggest exporter. Portugal is on pace to become the third-largest global olive oil producer by 2030, and the Alentejo is responsible for 85 percent of all production. 

Between October and February, Alentejo Olive Oil is extracted from the olive (fruit of the olive tree) at its ideal stage of maturity to obtain fruity, mellow olive oils, solely by mechanical processes.

Traveling across the Alentejo, often you see olive groves next to vineyards –because grapes and olives have much in common.   As with wines, the olive varietal, the soil in which it is grown and the microclimate all contribute to a unique taste and color. In fact, locals can show you how to taste the differences between regions.  

From the mountains of the Tejo River Valley  to the open plains of the Alentejo, unique olive oil regions have their own type of olives and cuisine that is influenced by the local varietals. 

The Alentejo region has  four traditional varieties of olives: Galega, Cordovil de Serpa, Verdeal Alentejana and Cobrançosa. But there  are many others, too.

For that reason, there is a tremendous variety of olive oils across the Alentejo, like in the Alentejo Interior Region olive oil or "Azeite do Alentejo Interior” a DOC region. This region runs from Marvão in the north to just short of Moura in the south and has some absolutely amazing olive oils, with plenty of olive oil estates that will welcome you. The olive oil here is golden or greenish with fruity flavors of apple and fig, adding a sweet after taste. Try it when you are there: you will detect fresh-cut grass, cinnamon, tropical fruits or other aromas of ripe or green olive fruit. The term "fruity” in olive oil tasting refers to vegetable notes, i.e. green olive fruit, as well as artichokes, grass and herbs.

Olive oils from the Northern Alentejo Region are cultivated around Évora. The oils from this region are thicker, golden and green tinted and combine fruits of different varieties with hints of ripe fruit.  

The olive oil Region of Moura, is set on the left banks of the River Guadiana. 
Moura olive oils are Designation of Origin. There is an old saying that the best olive oil is "Tão fino como o azeite de Moura”

Or "as fine as Moura olive oil.” This is a great region to explore - especially those who travel the road between Moura and Serpa, where you will find many olive estates. Olive oil from Moura is quite fruity, bitter and spicy with a yellowish green hue, widely used and very much acclaimed for its quality. 

With so many olive oil groves, farms and presses, you can easily follow an olive oil  trail to do olive oil tasting – many have tasting rooms where you can try and buy local oil!

Local olive oil museums:

• Palácio Visconde Olivã e Jardins / Lagar-Museu / Biblioteca Municipal de Campo Maior
• Olive Oil Museum – Varas de Fojo Olive Press Moura

* Jayme H. Simões is a travel blogger on Portugal.  He grew up in Chicago, but spent summers exploring Portugal with his family.

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