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Building an Olive Oil Destination in Úbeda

The olive oil museum in Úbeda creates an interactive experience where visitors may learn about the crop's history, production process and sample various local oils all in one place.

Photo by Hannah Howard.
Jan. 14, 2019
By Hannah Howard
Photo by Hannah Howard.

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As vis­i­tors enter the Cen­tro de Inter­pretación Oli­var y Aceite – the Olive and Oil Inter­pre­ta­tion Cen­ter – they walk into what at first glance appears only to be a shop.

How­ever, this is not any museum gift shop. Located in Úbeda, a small his­toric town in Jaén, it is a sort of tem­ple to olive oil.

There really are end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties.- Chef Javier Blasque, on cook­ing with olive oil

At the Inter­pre­ta­tion Cen­ter, dozens of local olive oils are on offer, from Picual to Hojin­lanca to Arbe­quina, pre­sented in bot­tles with pink foil, scenes of birds or abstract designs. There are olive oil cos­met­ics and lotions, choco­late bars made with olive oil and cook­books fea­tur­ing the region’s main lifeblood: olive oil.

See more: Cook­ing with Olive Oil

For the last five years, this mul­ti­func­tional space has been a hub for Jaén’s olive oil sec­tor, where it offers tast­ing work­shops, cook­ing classes and demos, and pro­fes­sional train­ings on Corred­era de San Fer­nando, a few min­utes’ walk from the Parador, a six­teenth-cen­tury Moor­ish Palace at the cen­ter of Úbeda.

The museum is run by the Oli­var y Aceite Asso­ci­a­tion, a non­profit orga­ni­za­tion whose objec­tive is the pro­mo­tion of Jaén’s olive oil. It is housed in an olive mill that was built in the 1930s.

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It makes sense that vis­i­tors to the area will want to learn about olive oil. The liq­uid gold” dom­i­nates the region’s land­scape, econ­omy, and cul­ture. Whether they enter by train or car, any vis­i­tor will notice olive trees stretched before them for miles, planted in straight rows, with sil­very leaves reflect­ing the sun­light. Olive groves cover gen­tle rolling hills which turn into moun­tains.

More than 220 mil­lion olive trees flour­ish in Jaén, the world’s largest cul­ti­vated sur­face area. Spain is the king of olive oil pro­duc­tion, and the region pro­duces more than 40 per­cent of Span­ish olive oil, and a fifth of the olive oil in the entire world.

Vis­i­tors can take a tour that show­cases nearly every aspect of olive oil. A guide will begin with the olive groves them­selves – olive trees grow in the museum’s gar­den – through to the pro­duc­tion process of the olive oil.

Vis­i­tors will see both his­toric and mod­ern mills, along with pho­tos and videos that explore the his­tory of olive oil in the region. They will learn about its place at the heart of local gas­tron­omy and its numer­ous and pow­er­ful health ben­e­fits. They will also taste through sev­eral oils and get a crash course in sen­sory analy­sis as well as detect­ing attrib­utes and defects.

At the Inter­pre­ta­tion Cen­ter, there really is some­thing for every­one. Vis­i­tors can embark on a tour of nearby olive groves. Work­shops are offered for kids of all ages. Tast­ings and train­ings are held for begin­ners, experts, and pro­fes­sion­als. The Cen­ter hosts events for both tourists and the local com­mu­nity.

They also offer oleo­tur­ismo” pack­ages where vis­i­tors can see mills, pro­duc­ers, and restau­rants through­out the region. More than 25 dif­fer­ent olive oil classes are taught each year, and the tast­ing club brings together ama­teurs and pro­fes­sion­als to taste through local oils.

An undis­puted high­light of a visit to the Inter­pre­ta­tion Cen­ter is down­stairs, where the Cen­ter hosts what they call show cook­ing.” It is the end of the jour­ney for the olive oil, and vis­i­tors can watch local chefs cook both tra­di­tional and mod­ern cre­ations, and then enjoy the result­ing fla­vors.

Olive oil stars in the region’s quin­tes­sen­tial dishes, such as cochifrito, suc­cu­lent pork meat fried in gar­lic and olive oil, rich lamb stew, and rabo de toro, bull tail braised in olive oil and red wine.

When Olive Oil Times vis­ited in Novem­ber, Chef Javier Blasque served foie gras with white choco­late and plum cake. The dish was served with a syringe of Picual, whose spicy, bright fla­vor cut through the rich­ness beau­ti­fully. A mousse of wild mush­rooms got a smooth kick from Arbe­quina olive oil and a sweet crunch from pome­gran­ate seeds.

For dessert, Blasque cre­ated an emul­sion of 30 per­cent cocoa but­ter and 70 per­cent Arbe­quina extra vir­gin olive oil, which he used to make both rice pud­ding and a fluffy olive oil cake.

There really are end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties,” Blasque said as he passed out small slices of his still warm cake.


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