Enough heav­enly olive oil to leave you feel­ing pop-eyed

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - Pamela Bone

YOU should be able to taste ap­ple, ar­ti­choke, basil, rose­mary, al­mond, ripe ba­nana and freshly cut grass. I can de­tect some vague herbal, nutty, ap­ple-like tones. There is def­i­nitely a whiff of newly mown grass. And yes, the touch of heat at the back of the throat as it goes down, and the slightly bit­ter af­ter­taste, they are there.

It is olive oil we’re talk­ing about, not wine. I amon Martin Ran­dall’s Gas­tro­nomic Spain tour, which in­cludes an olive oil tast­ing prior to lunch at one of Madrid’s finest restau­rants, El Olivo.

If you thought olive oils were olive oils, or even that ex­tra vir­gin olive oils were ex­tra vir­gin olive oils, you’d be wrong. Oils are not just oils.

Th­ese are Castillo de Ca­nena oils, from 100-year-old olive trees owned by a fam­ily com­pany with an olive-grow­ing his­tory go­ing back to 1780. The name comes from the Vano fam­ily’s cas­tle above the town of Ca­nena, in An­dalu­sia.

Rosa Vano, who also helps run El Olivo, tells us the ex­cel­lence of the oils — Har­rods of Lon­don is about to launch a se­lec­tion — is the re­sult of gen­er­a­tions of handed-down knowl­edge of soils and weather and fruit-ripen­ing.

The olives are picked from in­di­vid­u­ally se­lected trees whose fruits have ripened to just the right ex­tent, Vano ex­plains. The olives are then pressed as quickly as pos­si­ble and the oil stored in cel­lars un­til it is bot­tled, ex­clu­sively on de­mand, in dark glass bot­tles to keep out the light.

The very best of the year’s har­vest is sold in num­bered, lim­ited edi­tions.

To­day we are given three oils to try, in tiny glasses which we are told to warm in our hands be­fore drink­ing.

The first two are from ar­be­quino olives, and are milder and fresher tast­ing than the third, which is from the picual variety. This one is quite bit­ter, with a stronger herbal taste and tomato ‘‘ notes’’.

This is in­ter­est­ing, but it is al­ready past 2pm, and food is what I am­most in­ter­ested in.

When it ar­rives, ex­quis­ite course fol­lows ex­quis­ite course. Each uses one of the oils we have just tried.

Lob­ster gaz­pa­cho, cool, crunchy and spicy, driz­zled with oil No.1 and ac­com­pa­nied by crusty, salty bread to dip into the ex­tra bowls of oil on the ta­ble; lob­ster salad with vi­nai­grette (oil No.2) and fine herbs; monk fish with roasted pep­pers (oil No.3); and Ibe­rian pork with wine— pig’s cheek, slowly cooked for 10 hours un­til melt­ingly ten­der.

Then there’s a dessert se­lec­tion, in­clud­ing the Cata­lan spe­cialty of fried cus­tard, and an ap­ple tart with vi­o­let and raisin ice cream, and cof­fee.

It is 6pm when we fin­ish lunch. A group of men in busi­ness suits are still eat­ing as we leave the restau­rant.

Here is some more of the good oil on the good oil: olive oil is an an­tiox­i­dant, a pre­ven­ter of heart dis­ease and a source of vi­ta­mins E, A, D and K. It should not be kept in tins, be­cause the oil around the edge of the lid will spoil and con­tam­i­nate the rest; it should be kept in dark glass bot­tles to ex­clude the light; it cer­tainly should not be de­canted into a nice crys­tal jug; and it should be kept no longer than three to four weeks af­ter it is opened. Which means sev­eral oily bot­tles at the bot­tom of my food cup­board should have been thrown out years ago.

Check­list

Martin Ran­dall’s next Gas­tro­nomic Spain tour runs June 4-11, 2008. More: www.mar­t­in­ran­dall.com. El Olivo restau­rant, Gen­eral Gal­le­gos 1, Madrid, of­fers reg­u­lar olive oil tast­ings. More: +34 91 3591535.

www.castil­lode­ca­nena.com

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