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Lisbon Shop Showcases Portugal's Best Oils

A quest for high-quality Portuguese olive oil led Ricardo Faria to open Portugal's first specialized shop.

Dec. 10, 2019
By Isabel Putinja

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Olive oil con­nois­seurs know that the super­mar­ket might not be the best place to look for high-qual­ity olive oil. Even in olive oil-pro­duc­ing coun­tries, the shelves tend to be filled with mass-mar­ket brands, some of which might not even be extra vir­gin despite what their labels say.

I like to give them the sen­sory expe­ri­ence. By using a glass they can first smell the oil and already deter­mine if it is good or bad with this impor­tant first step.- Ricardo Faria, Loa – The Olive Oil World

This is some­thing Ricardo Faria wanted to address by open­ing Loa – The Olive Oil World, a spe­cial­ized store in Lis­bon where he stocks some of Por­tu­gal’s best olive oils.

Arranged neatly on wooden shelves are around 35 oils from the PDO regions — Norte Alen­te­jano, Alen­tejo Inte­rior, Trás-os-Montes, Beira Inte­rior, Rib­atejo and Moura — of dif­fer­ent vari­eties and taste pro­files rang­ing from mild, sweet and del­i­cate to intense, spicy and bit­ter.

Before mov­ing into the retail busi­ness, Faria had worked as a civil engi­neer for ten years when he decided it was time to make a change. His idea to open a shop spe­cial­ized in olive oil was inspired by the olive tree grow­ing in his small gar­den and by his own quest for high-qual­ity oil he could enjoy in his kitchen.

There are so many wine shops in Por­tu­gal but none spe­cial­ized in olive oil,” he told Olive Oil Times. Yet Por­tu­gal has a great tra­di­tion and many excel­lent olive oils to offer. But as a con­sumer, I found it dif­fi­cult to find good ones. There was only what’s avail­able in the super­mar­ket which is mostly low qual­ity.”

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Another prob­lem he iden­ti­fied was the lack of infor­ma­tion for con­sumers which makes buy­ing a qual­ity olive oil a chal­lenge. In super­mar­kets, you won’t find details of the har­vest time on the bot­tle. And even if it’s labeled extra vir­gin, this does­n’t mean it’s good qual­ity. And then, of course, you can’t taste the oil before buy­ing it. So it’s dif­fi­cult to make a good choice and con­sumer trust is low.”

See more: How to Find the Best Olive Oils Nearby

When he opened Loa’s doors in April 2017, Faria had already had a trial run sell­ing qual­ity Por­tuguese olive oils online. But he soon real­ized that an online store was not the best way to mar­ket and sell olive oil. The prob­lem with the online store was that it had lim­i­ta­tions: peo­ple did­n’t have the oppor­tu­nity to taste the olive oil and appre­ci­ate it,” he said of the expe­ri­ence. It’s a dif­fi­cult prod­uct to sell and if they can’t taste it they won’t buy it.” Not to men­tion the ship­ping costs.

In order to choose the olive oils he would stock in his store, he decided to take a course in the sen­sory assess­ment. What was a keen inter­est in olive oil quickly became a pas­sion and a desire to share his newly found knowl­edge.

I took the three-level course in sen­sory assess­ment avail­able at the Insti­tute of Agron­omy here in Lis­bon with olive oil spe­cial­ist José Gou­veia,” he explained. He’s a retired pro­fes­sor who now holds work­shops and heads a tast­ing panel. And he’s now a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to my store.”

Of course I only choose olive oils of great qual­ity,” he added. I’m not nec­es­sar­ily drawn to award win­ners because not all pro­duc­ers enter con­tests. I have oils by pro­duc­ers who have a very small pro­duc­tion, maybe only 100 liters a year, but the qual­ity is great. These fall under the radar but are a delight. I have some exclu­sive oils that are only avail­able in my store. I also try to choose good pack­ag­ing because it’s also impor­tant for the con­sumer.”

Loa cur­rently car­ries eleven award-win­ning brands from the 2019 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Com­pe­ti­tion, accord­ing to the new retail loca­tor app on the Offi­cial Index of the World’s Best Olive Oils.

Vis­i­tors to Loa can sam­ple oils before mak­ing a selec­tion through a guided tast­ing led by Faria him­self. He finds that most peo­ple who come to the shop expect to taste the olive oil with bread. Although he has some avail­able for this pur­pose, he encour­ages his cus­tomers to taste it pure” in a glass, like pro­fes­sional tasters.

I love to talk about olive oil and I like to see peo­ple enjoy it,” he says. I explain that olive oil tast­ing is sim­i­lar to wine tast­ing. I like to give them the sen­sory expe­ri­ence. By using a glass they can first smell the oil and already deter­mine if an oil is good or bad with this impor­tant first step.”

Fari­a’s mis­sion is not only to offer an expertly curated selec­tion of some of Por­tu­gal’s best olive oils but also to intro­duce his cus­tomers to the world of olive oil and teach them some of the basics. This includes not only gen­eral infor­ma­tion on how olive oil is pro­duced and what makes an oil an extra vir­gin, but also other more prac­ti­cal tips: how to read labels, how to cook with it, and how to store it at home.

Faria makes sure to tell his cus­tomers that olive oil is best when it’s fresh and should be con­sumed as quickly as pos­si­ble. This is a very impor­tant thing that most peo­ple don’t know. They think olive oil does­n’t have an expi­ra­tion date. I always have the fresh­est olive oil avail­able in my store. The 2019/2020 har­vest oils have already started to arrive.”

When asked which vari­eties and taste pro­files tend to be most pop­u­lar among his cus­tomers, his reply was that this can be very ran­dom. Peo­ple who don’t know olive oil gen­er­ally like mild ones because they like the sweet sen­sa­tion. Expert tasters go for the more intense olive oils. There’s some­thing for all tastes. But mild olive oils tend to sell more.”

While Faria mostly sources olive oils him­self, he also receives sam­ples from local pro­duc­ers and makes it a point to pro­vide them with feed­back.

Now pro­duc­ers come to me and send me sam­ples,” he said. I receive good olive oils, bad olive oils, a bit of every­thing. I try to give feed­back to pro­duc­ers who send me sam­ples that can’t be labeled extra vir­gin. I talk to them and try to find out where the prob­lem is so they can improve. Not every­one is open to feed­back. The real­ity is that some pro­duc­ers have inher­ited trees but don’t know much about the cor­rect process to make qual­ity olive oil. I try to edu­cate them.”

Por­tu­gal is the fourth-largest pro­ducer of olive oil in the Euro­pean Union after Spain, Italy and Greece. With over 20 native vari­eties such as Galega, Car­rasquenha, Cobrançosa, Cor­dovil, Maçanilha Algar­via, Verdeal and Madural, they rep­re­sent a vari­ety of taste pro­files.

Por­tuguese olive oil can be fruity, but we also have milder and sweeter oils with hints of apple, tomato, avo­cado, oth­ers with a more grassy green pro­file with hints of banana peel, arugula, arti­choke,” Faria told us.

It’s impor­tant to keep our iden­tity,” he added. That’s why we should value our Por­tuguese vari­eties and main­tain them.”





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