Aceite de la Rioja
DOP Aceite de la Rioja is a Spanish olive oil obtained from the fruit of the olive tree using exclusively mechanical methods or procedures, including pressing, in conditions which, particularly as regards heat, do not alter the nature of the oil or its excellent taste and free fatty acid content expressed as oleic acid of not more than 0,8 grams per 100, excluding oils obtained using solvents or by reesterification and any mixing with oils of other types or olive oil obtained by different methods.
The protected oils are extra virgin olive oils, clear in appearance, with no cloudiness, turbidity or dirt which detracts from their transparency. They are green in colour, with lights which may range from intense light green to intense dark green. They have no defects and sufficiently marked positive features. Their taste is fruity early in the season, with hints of almond, no bitterness, sweet and slightly savoury.
The area of production corresponds to that of conservation, extraction and packaging and covers the 503,388 ha of the Autonomous Community of La Rioja.
Method of production
The state of health of the fruit, the date of harvesting and the increasingly modern processing techniques mean that the area of production boasts a good quality of fruit and so the oil obtained from it.
The productivity and shade density of the olive tree will be appropriate to the state of growth of the plantation. Harvesting is always carried out carefully, with the sole aim of producing the protected oils from healthy fruit collected direct from the tree and of an appropriate degree of ripeness.
All the mills and/or packaging plants have systems to guarantee the separate unloading of fruit intended for the preparation of La Rioja extra virgin olive oil or of that oil and the rest, so avoiding any possible mixing. They also have appropriate areas for storing the olives or the protected oil before it handling. The olives are milled within no more than 48 hours of harvesting, so preventing them from rotting and becoming more acid. The temperature during extraction never exceeds 30 °C during pressing and 45 °C during the centrifugation process. Pressing time never exceeds 60 minutes and the temperature never exceeds 30 °C; there is only one pressing cycle. La Rioja extra virgin olive oil is never refined.
The protected oil is stored in conditions which guarantee its conservation, preferably in stainless steel vats, presses or metal tanks lined with ceramic, epoxy resins or other food-grade inert material. These tanks are hermetically sealed and kept at a gentle and constant storage temperature never exceeding 22 °C.
The olive oil is packaged only if it has the correct physical and chemical characteristics listed and passes a taste test set by a Grading Committee. To preserve the quality and ensure the traceability and inspection of the protected product, all the processes of production, reception, processing and packaging take place in the designated geographical area.
Olive oil, now a key element of the Mediterranean diet, has been a basic food in La Rioja, as well as being used for poultices and as rubbing oil, collected by the faithful for use in lamps in shrines and consumed or rubbed on painful spots while invoking virgins. For years olives preserved and prepared in the houses of farmers in La Rioja have served as an aperitif and a good snack when kept in cold water with salt, thyme, garlic and orange peel.
However, the Romans were the first to extract olive oil by pressing in La Rioja. An indication of this is the Roman counterweight found at Murillo de Río Leza and the oil store at a mill site in Alfaro, where two large oil stains may be seen.
There are written references to olive cultivation in the province in the eighteenth century, as the only well-ordered crop, and to mills for processing, of which there were 42 in La Rioja, which fell to 39 in 1861, rose to 64 in 1945 and then in 1953 to 81 mills, one residue mills, four factories producing industrial soap and six producing ordinary soap, all of which used olive oil. In that century Berceo notes that oil from La Rioja was being exported to the Indies and northern Europe.
Madoz's ‘Diccionario Geográfico Estadístico Histórico de España y sus Posesiones de Ultramar’ (Historical statistical dictionary of Spain and its overseas possessions), mentions the importance of oil exports from Alfaro in 1846-50.
Olive trees in La Rioja are normally to be found on dry soils with little humus in their upper layers, rich in lime, clay and sand and with no impermeable layers, so having good drainage, limiting growth, particularly in the hot season, and so a correct hormonal balance which affects the future quality of the olives produced here by increasing the content of the fruit in oil, polyphenols, anthocyanins and aromas and lowering pH, malic acid, potassium and grassy flavours. A more fertile type of soil would result in excessive growth and, worse, growth spilling over into the period when the olives are ripening, so delaying ripening and preventing adequate maturing. There would also be more shade problems because of the greater density of foliage and abundance of vegetation and more fungal diseases resulting in lower quality.
The predominant climate in the protected geographical area, temperate Mediterranean with some continental features, mild winters, long hot summers and low rainfall which is, however, sufficient for this crop to grow correctly in drought, good light and slight fluctuations in temperature between day and night, is ideal for development of the olive tree, resulting in increased oil content, better aroma and lower total acidity.
The low winter temperatures at cold times, which are also necessary to ensure the subsequent flowering and fruiting of the tree, occur when it is in its state of vegetative rest with no leaves or fruit, a time when it can resist temperatures down to -10 °C. After its winter rest, the olive requires light and temperatures between 10 °C and 25 °C to develop correctly. The Mediterranean climate in the designated area provides adequate light and warmth but is not so fierce as to prevent photosynthesis and loss of leaves where evaporation from them cannot be compensated for from the roots.
The thermal gap which occurs only during maturation has a positive influence on the synthesis of anthocyanins.
Another factor which is also very important in securing a good harvest and so good oil is the olive grower, who adds care to all the region's natural assets. The olive growers in the area have considerable knowledge of the olive tree and use traditional cultivation techniques designed to result in a balanced grove perfectly designed to produce quality olive oil.
Reference: The European Commission