The `pata negra’ of table olives

Olives are a crucial part of the Mediterranean gastronomy and its culture. Traditionally, people have eaten them grinding them into oil or fresh and seasoned —although right now there are more ways like spreads or jams. Olive seasoning is an art that is transmited through generations and that adapts itself to the type of olive, since there are 260 varieties around the world.

The D.O. Aloreña olive is a deep rooted variety in inland Malaga. Besides being the only table olive that has a protected designation of origin, it has particular characteristics. Its very fragile fruit makes it mandatory to harvest the olives by hand, which enhances even more its value as an artisanal and exclusive product. This harvest, that strats in September, is popularly known as the ‘verdeo’. In this process, the hands of the pickers are essential, since they must chose one by one the bigger olives and the ones that look better. Moreover, this olive is only seasoned with pickle (water and salt) and never with caustic soda, since it would damage the product. This is a guarantee to those who avoid unnatural seasonings. Since the Aloreña olive from Malaga is picked until it arrives at the table, olives go through a completely natural and artisanal process that has been practiced in this area for centuries. After olives are picked, they are broken and put into the pickle. For this last step, they prepare a combination of water and salt with the egg test (inside a recipient full of water, they introduce an egg and put salt on it until the egg floats).

Types of olives with D.O. Aloreña

Nowadays, we distinguish among three types of seasoned olives according to their organoleptic and physicochemical characteristics. First, we find the fresh green aloreña from Malaga, the one that after having been broken is kept in a fresh environment where it stays for at least three days before being bottled. With this process, they preserve their flavour and their texture. They are clearly identified by their light green color, their strong bitter taste and their smells that reminds of freshly cut grass. Second, we have the traditional aloreña from Malaga. This olive, after being cut, is kept in a room with no air conditioning at least 20 days. Therefore, the result of this rest is a product with longer ripening than the fresh green olive and with a, therefore, less intense color and a slighly less bitter taste. Lastly, the curated aloreña from Mlaga, after being cut, is left fermentating for at least three months before being bottled. They could be seasoning for longer if it does not affect their organoleptic characteristics. The result in this case will be a darker olive, which could even be brwon, with softer flavours, where the ingredients of the seasoning especially pop out.

Nowadays, there are 19 villages protecting the olive. They are located maining between Valle del Guadalhorce and Sierra de las Nieves, although there are some in Valle del Guadalteba or even in Serranía de Ronda: Alhaurín de la Torre, Alhaurín el Grande, Almogía, Álora, Alozaina, Ardales, El Burgo, Carratraca, Cártama, Casarabonlea, Coín, Guaro, Malaga, Pizarra, Ronda, Tolox, Valle de Abdajalís and Yunquera.

The aloreña olive from Malaga has been a product of reference in part of the province for centuries. There are no studies that show the origin of this variety, but there is evidence that they had been using table olives for centuries in this region, located between Valle del Guadalhorce and Sierra de las Nieves. The only date proven to be right is that the harvest of the olive tree was introduced by the Phoenicians, although it was the romans and the arabs who made the most out of it.

Among the virtues of the aloreña from Malaga, we could emphasise its low content in oleuropein —which enables the consuption of olives just after they have been pickled for 48 hours— and its floating stone, a key factor that allows us to peel off the flesh easily. Olives also stand out because of their thick texture —which eases the penetration of seasoning— and its size, bigger than other varieties.

After spending several days in pickle, olives are ‘sweetened’ and ready to season. Among the ingredients used for the traditional seasoning of this area of the province of Malaga we could mention thyme, fennel, garlic and pepper. Some people also add other natural elements, such as pieces of lemon. The final result will depend on the amout of those ingredients used to make the seasoning. Every person will give the prefered nuance by adding more or less quantity of some of them.