When you drive out of Madrid and towards, say, Andalusia, you are immediately struck by the endless number of trees growing Spanish olives.
This is a testament to several things. The Mediterranean Basin grows olives and has done so for millennia. Cultivation has led to species (and dozens of cultivars) that grow wonderfully in poor soil, and in the hot, usually dry and often windy climate.
And Andalusia – the south of Spain – is certainly hot, dry and windy. (We bailed on Sevilla. The temperature of 107f (42c) the weekend we were to go dissuaded us .) It is hard to grow other crops in those conditions. Plus mush of the soil is poor in thee region. But olive trees don’t care. They thrive. So the Spanish have planted millions of trees and they produce more olives – by far – than any other country in the world. Spain produces almost half of the world’s olive oil. For instance, if you buy Italian olive oil in the United States, likely 49% of it is actually from Spain. 90% of all olives become oil.
But you won’t find olive oil on the table in Spanish restaurants; it is available, but it is not a usual practice. For that matter, they don’t bring butter out either. It seems like a missed opportunity to get the wonderful flavors and health benefits of olive oil. However, a small bowl of olives is often brought out as a free tapa, but from my somewhat limited experience the quality of these aren’t particularly high. You get what you pay for.
For the good stuff, you have to go to markets or shops. Even a small grocery store will have a selection of olives. Community markets will have huge displays of all sorts of different varieties, plus ready made bocadillos .
Bocadillos include cheese, meats, shrimp and other veggies skewered with different types of olives and ready to eat. Marinated in oil and or vinaigrette, a variety of herbs add flavor. As a result, we chose a couple different ones every trip and always had delicious snacks on hand.