Galicia’s Biological Mission

By 2021 Galicia expects to com­plete a four-​year R&D project that seeks to estab­lish solid foun­da­tions for a Galician olive oil indus­try based on indige­nous olive vari­eties.

“Characterization and Recovery of Indigenous Olive Varieties from Galicia” is the first major sci­en­tific project devoted to Galician olives and began in 2017 with the aims of recov­er­ing indige­nous olive trees, iden­ti­fy­ing Galician olive vari­eties, under­tak­ing a small-​scale pro­duc­tion of their olive oils to ana­lyze their qual­i­ties, and expand­ing their pro­duc­tion to iden­tify those vari­eties with best busi­ness poten­tial.

The Viticulture Group of Galicia’s Biological Mission, a cen­ter of the Spanish National Research Council, leads this research spon­sored by Juana de Vega Foundation and sup­ported by APAG, Galicia’s Association of Olive and Oil Producers.

The Group is respon­si­ble for activ­i­ties in sci­en­tific and tech­no­log­i­cal aspects of viti­cul­ture and, since 2012, Galician olivi­cul­ture.

Its ini­tial inves­ti­ga­tions con­firmed the exis­tence of two indige­nous olive vari­eties, Brava Gallega and Mansa Gallega, which in 2017 were rec­og­nized and incor­po­rated into Spain’s Registry of Olive Varieties with a Commercial Interest and, con­se­quently, the EU Plant Variety Catalogues and Database. This enabled their plant­ing, olive and oil pro­duc­tion, and indi­ca­tion on prod­uct labels.

“We described their DNA pro­files and fea­tures accord­ing to the exist­ing UPOV code for Olea euro­pea and have some data about their organolep­tic traits and the analy­sis of their oils but need long-​term assess­ments of the olive trees and the influ­ence of annual weather to make rig­or­ous and reli­able con­clu­sions about the pecu­liar­i­ties of each olive vari­ety,” said María del Carmen Martínez, the group’s chief.

Researchers Characterize Two Galician Olive Varieties for the First Time

Olive oil, the main source of fat in the Mediterranean diet, is renowned for its nutri­ents and health prop­er­ties. Spain holds the dis­tinc­tion of being the top pro­ducer of this “liq­uid gold” in the world. While most olive oil in the coun­try is pro­duced in Andalusia, in recent years other areas have started to man­u­fac­ture high-​quality olive oil using indige­nous vari­eties.

In 2018 the Mission reported the find­ings of the project’s first phase when 116 cen­te­nary olive trees were iden­ti­fied and marked. Thirteen dif­fer­ent and unknown olive vari­eties were found after ana­lyz­ing DNA and botan­i­cal descrip­tions of 70 of these trees.

Except for Brava and Mansa Gallega and Portuguese Cobrancoça, the remain­ing vari­eties need to be named. The plan now moves for­ward to stages that seek to expand and com­plete the recov­ery of indige­nous olive tree vari­eties, and the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of oils pro­duced from their olives.

Upon com­plet­ing the project, the Viticulture Group expects to pro­vide the Galician and Spanish gov­ern­ments with data required to reg­is­ter new olive vari­eties as indige­nous from Galicia and glob­ally dis­tinct. It then plans to offer pro­duc­ers and nurs­eries mate­r­ial that may help expand the olive oil and table olive indus­tries using indige­nous Galician olive vari­eties.

The Group’s prior expe­ri­ence with the ini­tial stages of a Galician wine indus­try based on local grape vari­eties, and the many sim­i­lar­i­ties between olives and vines, serve as a ref­er­ence for the devel­op­ment of what appears to be a promis­sory regional olive oil indus­try.

Although Galicia is known for its wine pro­duc­tion, cen­te­nary olive trees located through­out Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras and the province of Pontevedra attest an ancient olive oil pro­duc­tion. Many trees were removed cen­turies ago and com­mer­cial oil pro­duc­tion was aban­doned, but domes­tic pro­duc­tion never ceased. In recent years some com­pa­nies and winer­ies resumed this pro­duc­tion with a com­mer­cial tar­get.

Approximately 300 hectares of olive trees are cur­rently planted in Galicia, 130 of which, or 40 per­cent, belong to APAG mem­bers. “The Association is ready to pro­vide advice to the increas­ing num­ber of per­sons inter­ested in plant­ing olive trees, espe­cially from indige­nous vari­eties,” noted APAG’s pres­i­dent, José Antonio García Martínez. Many com­pa­nies, espe­cially for­eign, are inter­ested in invest­ing in Galicia’s olive sec­tor, he noted.

Among the cur­rent oper­a­tors in Galicia, four employ indige­nous olive vari­eties grown in Galicia; five pro­duc­ers make oils from non-​indigenous olives grown in Galicia.

According to García, APAG pro­duc­ers are focus­ing on craft­ing pre­mium olive oils, pay­ing the utmost atten­tion to all stages involved in pro­duc­tion to ensure the gourmet sta­tus of their prod­uct.

APAG per­ceives the Biological Mission’s research can have a pos­i­tive impact on the expan­sion of Galicia’s olive sec­tor and the recog­ni­tion of the unique­ness of its indige­nous olive oils. The Association’s aspi­ra­tion is that these efforts may help con­sti­tute a des­ig­na­tion of ori­gin that would cer­tify the qual­ity and ori­gin of the olive oils from Galicia.


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