World’s Best Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Is Spanish

A Spanish-made extra-virgin Olive Oil has been named the world’s best in the most recent annual guide to the 100 highest-ranked by international experts. The 6th edition of EVOOLEUM 2022 is now out. The guidebook covers all brands that have earned one of the global awards by compilers Mercacei, in conjunction with the Spanish Association of Olive-Growing Municipalities (AEMO). Each type described is given a full breakdown of its qualities, where it comes from, characteristics, olive variety, type of olive tree, tourism activities linked to its production, whether it is certified as organic, Kosher or Halal, the dishes it combines best with, a rating of its flavour and an overall score, as well as a photo of the bottle and label.

Over 800 samples from around 20 countries were judged by 10 countries; Spain, Italy, Croatia, Portugal, Turkey, Greece, Morocco, the USA, Argentina and Slovenia.

Olives used for oil are hugely diverse with at least 15 varieties being among the entries that made the top 100, most of which are endemic to their countries of origin. Spain’s best included oils from the Picual, Hojiblanca, Cornicabra, Arbequina, Pajarera, Picuda and Pico Limón varieties of olives. Although Italian extra-virgin Olive Oil takes up 5 of the top 10, Spain is not far behind with four. Croatia gained 3rd slot with its Monte Rosso Grand Selection from Istria, made with the varieties Leccino, Bianchera Istriana, Pendolino, Maurino and Picholine. Italy came 2nd with its Monini Monocultivar Frantoio Bio, from Perugia, made with the Frantoio olive, but Spain topped the list with its Olibaeza Premium Picual from Jaén. The label and bottle designed by Isabel Cabello was as highly praised as the content. 4th and 5th placed oils were also Spanish; the Almaoliva Arbequino, from Córdoba, made with the Arbequina olive and the Rincón de la Subbética Altitude, also from Córdoba and made with the Hojiblanca variety. Italy took the 6th-9th slots inclusive, with the Schinosa La Coratina and the Di Molfetta Frantoiani, both from the Barletta-Andria-Trani areas, the Giove and the Natyoure Organic, both Coratina Olive Oils and from Bari, in that order. Spain’s 10th spot was with an oil from Granada, the Maev & Toro; a blend of Picual, Hojiblanca and Arbequina olives.

World’s Best Cheese Is Spanish

The first-prize winner in the 2021 World Cheese Awards is from the province of Jaén, in Andalucía.

Often referred to as ‘the cheesy Oscars’, producers who gain these prestigious awards instantly shoot to global fame and can almost name their price when selling the top pick. This year’s was one of 16 to reach the final of a contest that featured over 4,000 varieties of Cheese from 48 countries on all five inhabited continents.

A goat’s Cheese developed by the dairy firm Quesos & Besos, based in Guarromán, Jaén province, is called Olavidia. The awards took place in Oviedo (Asturias) and each Cheese was scrutinised for their shape, scent, texture, feel, flavour, complexity of their creation process and their presentation and packaging.

Paella Is Now ‘National Heritage’ 

Known worldwide as ‘Spanish cuisine’, Paella is actually native to the east-coast region of the Comunidad Valenciana. Not quite UNESCO status, but the national equivalent, the tag applied for in May this year by the Mediterranean region of the Comunidad Valenciana has been duly granted and although Paella needs little advertising in itself, global tourists in Spain will now be unable to escape the knowledge that it is these three provinces; Castellón, Valencia and Alicante where the popular saffron-yellow rice dish comes from.

The Valencian regional government explained Paella was ‘not just a dish’, but ‘a thread binding the region’s society together’.

Paella’s origins are humble and simple and it was pointed out that it continues to be the most ‘democratic’ and ‘classless’ of all dishes, as it is relatively cheap to whip up a basic version and often comes as the main course in a cut-price Menú Del Día. At the same time, highly-exquisite versions of Paella are served up in the kind of multiple Michelin-starred eateries where a similar-sized meal would cost you a three figure sum per head.

There are so many variations of Paella and hundreds more that are not, strictly-speaking, Paella. These come under the heading of ‘rice dishes’, or ‘rice with’. There is no single, authentic, unchangeable recipe that, if you alter just one ingredient or quantity, ceases to be the ‘real thing’. The original recipe dates back to 1857, but is now thought to be ‘Paella blasphemy’.

Paella’ is rather like ‘balti’ or similar as the name of the pan it’s cooked in is called a Paella; a flat metal dish you fry and simmer the rice in. It is based upon one of the most prolific and cheap staple ingredients you can find in the Comunidad Valenciana – rice. Calasparra in Northwest Murcia is one area that is famous for its rice or paddy fields.

As well as rice, the 1857 recipe includes water, olive oil, salt, saffron for the colour, garlic, plus tomatoes, chicken, green beans, pork loin, sausages, red peppers, parsley, peas, eels and snails. Meat-based Paellas, typically found in inland parts rather than near the coast, do sometimes include snails, but peas are, nowadays, considered an absolute ‘no-no’ on a par with chorizo.

Paella is actually more North African than Spanish – or was, once.

It can be completely vegan or full-on carnivorous, although the most common varieties tend to be either seafood (Paella de marisco), or the Valencian version (Paella valenciana), with other options including beans and turnip, chickpeas and artichokes, or meat-only (chicken and rabbit being frequently used).

It was the Muslim community, in the majority in Spain for around 700 years, who developed the irrigation, cultivation and harvesting techniques in coastal salt-marshes that allowed rice to thrive and become a key feature of main meals.

In practice, Paella dishes are made by pouring the rice into a sizzling pan with oil and then, once all the ingredients are added to the mixture, topped up with water – vegetable, meat or fish stock – and the heat turned down, leaving it to simmer. This means the rice does boil and is not hard. It may get ‘burnt and stuck to the pan’ which is what it is supposed to do. Spanish supermarkets sell powerful washing-up liquids labelled ‘for Paella pans’ and ‘Paella-pan scrapers’, precisely for this reason.