`Majorcan Table Olives Win European Protection

Europe

Majorcan Table Olives Win European Protection

Mar. 13, 2014
Julie Butler

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Wild olive trees pro­vide the root­stock and a native olive vari­ety the fruit which becomes Aceituna de Mal­lorca” — the table olives from the Span­ish island of Majorca just added to the list of pro­tected agri-food prod­ucts in the Euro­pean Union.

The reg­is­tra­tion as a pro­tected des­ig­na­tion of ori­gin (PDO) actu­ally cov­ers three vari­ants of the same small Major­can olive: whole green, bruised green and nat­ural black table olives.

Among their claimed fea­tures are a float­ing stone’, which is a pit only loosely attached to the olive flesh, a char­ac­ter­is­tic bit­ter­ness, due to the high polyphe­nol con­tent,” and a fat con­tent with a melt­ing point under 39 °C (102 °F), said to deliver a creamy mouth feel prized by con­sumers”.

Exper­tise in graft­ing, har­vest­ing by hand

But it’s the causal links between an area and the qual­ity or char­ac­ter­is­tics of a prod­uct that are key for PDO list­ing and in this case the sup­port­ing doc­u­ments say the main fac­tors are:

- Cli­mate and soil: the com­bi­na­tion of a Mediter­ranean cli­mate and limey soil endow the olives with a high level of polyphe­nols, which gives them the bit­ter taste…so typ­i­cal of the Major­can olive.”

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- Genetic char­ac­ter­is­tics: the island’s hardy, rain-fed wild olive trees (Olea euro­pea var. sylvestris) have long pro­vided the root­stock onto which the native Major­can olive vari­ety — known for poor root growth — is grafted. Inter­est­ingly, though dif­fer­ent to the vari­ety of the same name on main­land Spain, this indige­nous vari­ety is called empel­tre’ after the Cata­lan word for graft’.

- Agro­nomic resources: the olives are picked by hand and in stages — before win­ter for the whole green olives and bruised green olives, and after win­ter for the nat­ural black ones.

- Dis­tinc­tive pro­duc­tion method: this includes the tra­di­tional flavour­ing of the bruised green olives with fen­nel and chili pep­pers from the island, and the addi­tion of Major­can olive oil to the nat­ural black olives, increas­ing their char­ac­ter­is­tic unc­tu­ous­ness”.

Con­sumers will­ing to pay more

Table olives have long fea­tured in the gas­tron­omy of not just Majorca but other Balearic islands. An 1871 book said they and bread accom­pa­nied every meal and that the aver­age rural fam­ily salted about 200kg a year for their own use.

The impor­tance of olives there is also reflected in old songs and say­ings, includ­ing one along the lines of For the olive and the acorn, they help har­vest both the big and small” — a ref­er­ence to the whole fam­ily hav­ing to pitch in. Other sources refer to size­able exports of table olives from Majorca between the eigh­teenth and early nine­teenth cen­turies, such as to the West Indies and South Amer­ica.

A doc­u­ment pub­lished by the Span­ish gov­ern­ment said stud­ies show many Major­cans still con­sume their local table olives as a snack or with the typ­i­cal tomato-rubbed bread with olive oil. It also said an indi­ca­tion of their fond­ness for the local vari­ety is that a 2011 study found the retail price for Major­can table olives was 42 per­cent higher than the aver­age price for all table olives.


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