In the olive-producing regions of the European Union one encounters monovarietal olive oils as well as olive oils that are composed from several varieties of olive, the blends.
‘Blends’ can assume a couple different forms. A blend can come from a single olive grove in which two to four types of olive tree are growing alongside one another, which yield a ‘natural’ mixture in a somewhat casual relationship. Or, smaller lots of monovarietal olive oil are mixed to form a composition, in order to round out the flavour or to highlight nuances of taste. Issues of savour and intensity are considered in blending, along with the fact that a ‘composed’ olive oil does not necessarily offer more complex flavour than a pure varietal oil. It’s much more a matter of the olive varieties used, the time of harvest and the skill with which the oil is processed.
The assortment of Portuguese olive oils is nearly infinite. The most widely planted varieties of olive in Portugal are Galega, Cobrançosa, Cordovil, Verdeal and Madural. They are typically characterised by a pleasant fruitiness and a slightly nutty, almond-toned flavour. All told there are some thirty native varieties in Portugal, which show their different characteristics and variable tastes depending upon region and the prevailing microclimate.
Galega is the type of olive most frequently encountered in Portugal, making up around 80% of the total production. It is primarily cultivated in the regions Beira, Alentejo and in the Algarve. The olive is very mild, and the oil made from it mild and fruity.
Cobrançosa is the variety most widely planted in the north of Portugal. The oil produced from it is very mild, with a discrete fruitiness, spiciness and bitterness. In terms of taste, the flavours are reminiscent of green grass, green apples and almonds. The later these olives are harvested, the milder and sweeter the oil that can be made from them.
One further important Portuguese variety of olive is the Madural, which is also mostly cultivated in the north of the country. The oil produced from it is markedly tart and sharp, with a flavour that is reminiscent of bitter almonds.
Verdeal is known for yielding very fruity, green, bitter and pungent oils. Verdeal olives are primarily found in the regions Alentejo and Trás-os-Montes. The flavour of the oil is reminiscent of leafy greens.
Cordovil is a variety that is very important for Alentejo and Beira Interior. The oil made from these olives is very fruity with a medium degree of pungency and bitterness. Once more, with the Cordovil olive oil, the flavour of leafy greens is apparent.