The world’s best olive oils and mills: a tour of Andalusia

Many a cultured traveler will have seen their fare share of wineries, tasted some of the finest vintages and built a good knowledge base around grapes and wines; but how many of these same people can name more than a few varieties of olive (there are in fact hundreds) or describe the difference in taste and colour between “picuda” and “picual” extra virgin oils? Olive oil production dates back at least as far as wine production, and many would argue the flavour distinctions between extra virgin olive oils are equally as complex.

So where to begin the exploration? Spain is the undisputed powerhouse of olive oil production with between 40 to 55% of global production annually, led by the southern region of Andalucia, and it is possible to visit some of the very best mills in the world there for tastings and educational tours. According to the appropriately named organisation, World’s Best Olive Oils, eight of the best ten olive oils in the world come from Spain, of these, all of the top five. In all, 29 of the best 50 olive oils hail from Spain; Andalucían mills represent all of the top four and 22 of the top 50 best products.

See the World’s Best Olive Oils website for the complete list, compiled annually based on the results of the most important and prestigious international competitions.

So why not combine a sun-splashed visit to Andalucia with a tour of some of the most important producers in the world and taste some of the most exquisite olive oils ever made? Here’s a little guide to get you started exploring…

Mueloliva Mill, Muela Olives S.L., Priego de Cordoba

The reigning champion olive oil is Mueloliva brand Venta del Baron from Muela Olives S.L. near the city of Cordoba in Andalusia. They are definitely doing something right; not only do they hold the top spot with Venta del Baron, a limited production blend of “Hojiblanca and Picuda” varieties that has earned more than 60 awards in eight countries, but they also hold the number eight position with their 100% “Picuda” variety oil. The mill’s founder was a pioneer in various, now commonly used, modern methods including cold pressing; still, the focus was always on tradition and quality rather than mass production.

A339, km 24.5, 14800 Priego de Cordoba, Cordoba. Tel: +34 957 547 017

Melgarejo Mill, Aceites Campoliva S.L., Jaen

The World’s Best Olive Oils organisation also compiles a listing of the best mills in the world based on different criteria and Aceites Campoliva scores one place higher than Muela Olives in this ranking. With three oils making the list of the 50 best, including numbers 20 and 21, the mill is clearly one of the world leaders. The proprietors actively promote activities to spread the culture behind olive oil production and educate the populace on the extensive uses and many health benefits of extra virgin olive oil; therefore, a tour of the Melgarejo mill is sure to be an educational experience.

Camino Real, S/N, 23110 Pagalajar, Jaen. Tel: +34 953 361 081

Finca la Torre, Finca La Reja S.L., Bobadilla, Malaga

The Finca La Torre brand olive oil made from “Hojiblanco” variety olives ranked fourth best in the world in the last year end analysis, yet has already been awarded best olive oil in some of the early competitions of 2015. Operating as Finca la Torre since 1260, the farm and olive oil production has existed in the same spot since 210 B.C., beginning with the Romans. As one of the oldest companies in the world with more than 2200 years of practice it’s no wonder that Finca la Torre produces one of the finest olive oils anywhere. Roman remnants are still evident across the estate of more than 376 hectares, exhibited for visitors to see in the form of ruins and artefacts, making a tour of this estate a fascinating lesson in history as well as olives and oil. The grounds and gardens alone are worth a visit.

Camino Finca la Torre S/N, 29540 Bobadilla, Malaga. Tel: +34 952 111 619

Oro Bailen, Galgón 99 S.L., Jaen

Know-how clearly creates a professional advantage in any business, and the makers of Oro Bailen olive oils operate with a very scientific approach. However, as with wine making, the conditions of climate and soil also have a profound impact and here the Galgón 99 Mill in Jaen has an advantage over many other mills. Located in the foothills of the Sierra Morena, the site forms a natural border between the high Spanish plains and the Guadalquivir River valley creating a long corridor to the Atlantic ocean, which ensures regular rain in spring and autumn, while average temperatures remain mostly stable. The technical and scientific approach behind Oro Bailen make a visit to the mill a very educational affair; however, equally as interesting is the setting itself, an ecosystem of Mediterranean forest and scrubland housing various rare and endangered species across the stunning landscapes. The Oro Bailen Reserva Familiar Picual oil ranked third best in the world.

Ctra. Plomeros, Casa del Agua, 23730 Villanueva de La Reina, Jaen. Tel: +34 953 548 038

Hacienda el Palo, Explotaciones Jame S.L., Jaen

Ranked second in the most recent list of the world’s best, the Bravoleum Picual variety special selection olive oil has an intriguing green colour and complex hints of other fruits such as banana, artichoke and green tomato. The makers exercise full control over the production and process the olives on the same day that they are harvested to preserve the full aroma and flavour. Their precision and passion make for a truly engaging visit.

Carretera de Jaen, Km 0.95, 23630 Villargordo, Jaen. Tel: +34 953 377 190

The 22 of the world’s best extra virgin olive oils originating in Andalucia come from 16 different producers, meaning you could make a very long tour of it. Have a look over the list yourself and begin planning now!

Image #1: Shutterstock

Alan Hazel is Owner and Director of Cortijo El Carligto.

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