Costa del Sol and Costa de Almería Feature
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Olive Oil, the Golden Nectar
Inland from the Costa del Sol's clamor and crowds, the landscape is stunning. Far in the distance, tiny villages cling precariously to the mountainside like a tumble of sugar cubes, while in the foreground, brilliant red poppies and a blaze of yellow mimosa are set against a rippling quilt of cool-green olive trees and burnt-ocher soil.
Up close, most of the trees have dark twisted branches and gnarled trunks, which denote a lifetime that can span more than a century. It's believed that many of the olive trees here are born from seeds of the original crop brought to the Mediterranean shores in the 7th century BC by Greek and Phoenician traders. Since that time, the oil produced has been used for innumerable purposes, ranging from monetary to medicinal.
These days, the benefits of olive oil are well known, but the locals don't need convincing. Olive oil has long been an integral part of the traditional cuisine and is used lavishly in every meal, including breakfast—when the country bars fill up with old men wearing flat caps, starting their day with coffee and brandy along with slabs of toasted white bread generously laden with olive oil, garlic, and salt.
Spain's most southerly province produces a copious 653 metric tons of olive oil each year, or 90% of the entire country's output. The area currently exports to more than 95 countries, with the main buyers of bulk oil being Italy, France, Germany, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. The type and grade of oil varies according to the destination. Some oils taste sweet and smooth; others have great body and character and varying intensities of bitterness. North Americans like their oil to be light, with little distinctive taste, while Mexicans prefer olive oil that is dark and strong.
It has been years since medical journals revealed that people living in the southern Mediterranean countries had the lowest incidence of heart disease in the Western world, which led to increased use of olive oil throughout the West, not only for salad dressing but also as a healthy and tasty substitute for butter and vegetable oil in almost every aspect of cooking—except, that is, as a spread for toast; it may take several decades more before olive oil becomes standard breakfast fare anywhere else but in rural Andalusia!
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