After a decade of building the foundations, Brazil’s national olive oil industry is growing and receiving praise for the quality of its oils.
In 2018, Brazil produced 150,000 liters of olive oil, 43 percent more than in 2017. The 2019 olive harvesting season is currently underway and producers from the country’s two main olive growing regions are expecting mixed results.
The 2018 winter was not too cooperative and didn't provide us with the necessary total hours of chilly weather, which is a direct reason why the crop is much below the expectations
“Some people produced 10,000 liters and now they are producing 5,000 or 6,000 liters,” Pérola Polillo, a Brazilian olive oil sommelier and chef, told Olive Oil Times. “In the south, it is the opposite, last year they had a bad harvest because of frost and this year they’ve had a really good harvest.”
Production in the Serra da Mantiqueira, which is located along the border of Minas Gerais and São Paulo, began in February and producers are expecting a dismal harvest.
See more: The Best Brazilian Olive Oils
“There has been a sizeable reduction in this year’s crop as compared to the previous year. Somewhere in the region of a 40 percent reduction,” Nélio Weiss, a local producer in the region, told Olive Oil Times.
“The entire Mantiqueira region is experiencing a substantial reduction as compared to last year. My expectation is that the production will not exceed 50,000 liters,” he added. Weiss personally expects only to produce 1,500 liters this year.
Olive cultivation in the Serra da Mantiqueira represents half of Brazil’s olive oil production. The other half is in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. A very small amount of olive oil production also takes place in Paraná and Espírito Santo.
In Rio Grande do Sul, producers are feeling more confident.
“It is still a little bit too early to talk about all the expected production for our region in the south of Brazil, as we have been harvesting for only two weeks,” Rafael Marchetti, the director of Prosperato, Brazil’s largest olive oil producer, told Olive Oil Times.
“But we have an idea of something around 160,000 to 180,000 liters, not counting the rest of Brazil,” he added. “I would say that our company will be responsible for one-third of this expected production.”
Contrasting weather conditions in the two regions, which are separated by about 900 kilometers, played a leading role in determining the success of the harvests.
“The 2018 winter was not too cooperative and didn’t provide us with the necessary total hours of chilly weather, which is a direct reason why the crop is much below the expectations,” Weiss said.
Polillo added that after a promising spring, producers in the Serra da Mantiqueira were optimistic, but unseasonable rain prevented trees from being able to pollinate properly.
“In the spring there were a lot of flowers on the trees and growers were very optimistic, but when they began to open and were being pollinated, it started to rain a lot and the flowers could not be pollinated,” she said. “Now, the trees only have a few fruits.”
Meanwhile in Rio Grande do Sul, the weather conditions were ideal for olive oil production.
“After a perfect winter with low temperatures and no rain during the flowering period, we are expecting to have a great harvest,” Marchetti said.
See more: An Interview with Rafael Marchetti
The unique weather and history of the Serra da Mantiqueira greatly impact the flavor profiles and chemical composition of the resulting oils, both for better and worse. Too much rain, as was the case this year, seeps into the soils and lowers the polyphenol counts in the olives.
Many of these olive trees are also grown in and around coffee plantations, which dominated the region’s economy and ecology for centuries.
“Acidity from coffee plants has also affected olive trees, possibly lowering polyphenols too,” Polillo said. “The combination of these factors make the resulting olive oil unique, with low bitterness, low pungency and high fruitiness.”
Brazil only produces extra virgin olive oils. These are fresh, have a lively color, a unique fruity aroma and are mainly bottled by the producers, who tend to harvest olives earlier in the season and produce blends from various varieties.
“Brazilian producers are all relatively new and as the harvest seasons progress they are getting better and bringing in experts, such as Antonio Lauro, to come and advise them over best practices,” Polillo said.
Epamig (the Minas Gerais AgroFishing Research Company) pioneered olivicultural research in Minas Gerais in the 1970s and has conducted a study on the genetic improvement and natural selection of eight Brazilian olive varieties, one of which is MGS Mariense, known as Maria da Fé, and is derived from the first Galega olive trees that were brought from Europe.
Epamig certified an oil made in Maria da Fé as the first olive oil made in Brazil from Brazilian-grown olives in 2018. Assoolive represents the interests of olive producers in Mantiqueira and is working toward the creation of a geographical quality indication for the oils produced in Maria da Fé.
However, the Spanish varieties of Arbequina, Arbosana, Picual and Manzanilla are mostly grown in Brazil since they have adapted the best to the climate and soils. Grappolo, Coratina, Frantoio and Koroneiki are also found throughout the country.
Brazilian oils have already received numerous international awards for their quality. Serra dos Garcias, Olivi, Borriello and Prosperato are some of the country’s premium oil brands.
Fazenda Verde Oliva produces a Brazilian extra virgin olive oil from organic and biodynamically-grown olives, one of the world’s very few biodynamic extra virgin olive oils.
Even though olive trees were first brought to the country in the colonial period, they did not prosper and the government did not try to further develop an olive oil industry, in order to favor Portuguese imports.
In the 1930s a Portuguese immigrant brought olive trees to Maria da Fé, in the Serra da Mantiqueira, where the cooler climate helped them to prosper.
By the 1940s, the government had begun to experiment with olive plantings, but the lack of adequate studies led to the loss of more than 300,000 trees, which were abandoned because of inadequate production.
The metamorphosis truly began in 2005 when the government of Rio Grande do Sul decided to expand olive groves by creating synergies with the state’s wineries. One of these was Miolo, with an olive grove that inspired a wealthy Brazilian restaurateur to enter the olive business, paving the way for larger investors to enter the sector and expand plantings.
Currently there are 16,000 acres of olive groves planted in Brazil. The Institute of Brazilian Oliviculture predicts that this figure will increase to nearly 25,000 acres by 2020 and 50,000 acres by 2025.