Paralel universes

Harvest, ageing, tasting, blends, peppery or citrus tones, terroir or points achieved in international competitions… Within Bortársaság’s walls there would be no question that we’re talking about wines. Yet, we aren’t. We’ve received some top-notch olive oil from Spain and Portugal, we’ve tasted them and talked to Gusztáv Tóth, owner of (lit. real olive) in connection with them. Indeed, the world of olive oils has a lot in common with that of wines. We might say they exist in parallel universes.   

One might imagine that olive oils are prepared for months – just like wines...

The making of olive oils is a short but intensive process. Pressing needs to be carried out within 24 hours, and at the end of the process, the finished product doesn’t last for too long either. The first step is to shake the healthy olives off the trees with special machines, and the olives fall into the nets set up under the trees. It’s important to avoid the olives getting damaged and also to prevent the initiation of oxidation which ruins the taste of the oil. They start processing the collected olives within hours. Tree branches, leaves and damaged olives are then separated out. Next, following cleaning, the crop of olives is taken to the mill where they are broken up by disk crushers, steel hammer crushers and knife crushers – this is done together with the pits at most olive factories. Following the grinding, the paste is moved around, or ‘malaxed’. It’s important that the temperature of the mixture doesn’t increase beyond 27 °C, since if this happens then the cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil will be ruined. Following this, the paste is pumped into a centrifugal decanter in which the paste is spun around at 3,000 rpm, and it is separated into pomace and liquid components. The liquid, which consists of vegetable water and olive oil, is pumped into another separator in which they are separated at 6,000 rpm. The extra virgin olive oil is filtered and finally put into stainless steel tanks.


Of course, all of this is not enough for a world-champion olive oil to be born...

In order for a product to make it into the Flos Olei guide of the world’s best 500 olive producers, a great amount of criteria must be met. During the year-long tasting process, experts from olive oil producing countries evaluate the oils. Many points go to those producers who can maintain stable quality year after year, but if a newcomer steps up with an outstanding product, they can also expect to obtain high scores. 98 is the magic number at scoring – no oil has ever received a score higher than that.


I presume these top category oils are not for cooking...

On the contrary. I’ve selected oils that are good for both cooking and to go with salads, or simply delicious with a slice of fresh bread, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. What’s more, most of them are reasonably priced.


Which one is entry-level?

In the field of olive oil, Portugal is practically unknown in Hungary, even though it has some incredibly good olive producers. Quinta do Pouchão DOP, for example, is a perfectly constructed blend. And its makers are audaciously young: they have been making oil for hardly longer than a decade. This blend has been made from the same indigenous varieties for years and that’s why it has protected designation of origin status. The smaller part comes from Cobrançosa, which is intense with deep green aromas, cut grass and tomato notes. This complements the most widespread Portuguese variety, Galega, which gives a very light, milky, appealing and basically sweetish oil, with walnut and fresh hay notes. This blend is always unfiltered – so even with this oil the producer, which farms 250 hectares in the Tejo region, continues to represent the old, traditional olive oil scene. Owing to this, the oil is opalescent, densely structured and is inclined to leave a sediment. In the case of unfiltered extra virgin oils, the price to pay for the rustic and homemade feel is a shorter shelf life. Therefore, it should be consumed relatively quickly after opening the bottle; within a month or a month and a half. This will be easy as it’s a very sociable oil.


Is there a less sociable oil as well?

Well, there is a terribly exciting Spanish one: the Casas de Hualdo Manzanilla from Toledo, which is the oil of a young, progressive and top producer. It has been rated among the world’s top 20 producers for years: its oils stand out, especially for their unbeatable value. On top of that, a couple of years ago it was named the planet’s most beautiful olive plantation. There’s are absolutely no compromises here. There’s never any delay in the harvest or processing, nor are there any faulty caps or any mistakes in the process. Based on the results that verify the work that has been carried out here, we might conjure up some sort of a Castilian mini-Prussia. The oil is ready within six hours following the harvest, which can be read on the label, too. The Manzanilla Cacereña variety has huge body and power. It’s dense with muscular concentration, cold and deep green aromas that exude green tomato, chicory and sorrel. Then comes a bitter palate with medicinal herbs and it’s of course really spicy. Because of the variety, it’s a bit smoky, salty and has umami – and the last note makes it so exciting that out of the four varieties from this producer, this one was able to make it into the 2017 world selection. Due to its strong character, it’s worth trying it out with different dishes. This olive oil is really appreciated by knowledgeable olive oil consumers, and of course, the brave ones.


And finally, there is also the Basque Country which has long been famous for its gastronomy. We received oil from you from there as well...

The Basque Artajo Frutado comes from a 92-point, really consistent olive oil producer. The producer works with nine varieties and they frequently feature in San Sebastián’s top kitchens. The estate that dates back to the 18th century had fallen into decay before it was recently renovated and a mill similar to a modern, progressive winery was implemented. Beside the Arroniz variety, they try to harvest the other varieties that feel at home in Navarra, such as Arbequine (with its tiny olives) before the early freeze, which is how it can obtain a slightly greener, fruitier complementary note beside the markedly feminine, sweetish basic flavour. There isn’t a trace of bitterness but the relatively early harvest is implied by a pronounced but not intensive pepper which fades when paired with food. It’s also interesting that most of the Artajo oils exude a certain cocoa butter, raw Turkish hazelnut aroma with some tomato. Despite its black label, it’s not the slightest bit harsh, but decidedly fresh, despite the Navarra oil trees growing in the rougher terrain, which is often white because of the frost. And as to whether the universes are parallel or not? Everybody can decide after tasting them.