Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Quest for Brazilian Olive Oil

As detailed in yesterday's post on Flavors of Brazil about the size of the Brazilian market for imported olive oil, Brazil's consumption of olive oil (or azeite as they call it) is stupendously large, and is increasing exponentially from year to year.

Considering the economic value of the oil that is imported into Brazil every year, not to mention the equally large market for imported olives themselves, it's only natural that Brazilian agriculturalists and botanists have turned their thoughts to the possibilities of creating a domestic market in olives and olive oils. It has long been thought that Brazil didn't offer the climatic or soil conditions that the olive tree requires to grow and bear fruit. The area around the Mediterranean Sea, where the tree flourishes, is known for dry, sandy soil, hot and arid summers, and cool and damp winters. Brazil, with its tropical soil, year-round heat and high levels of humidity was thought to be inimical to olive tree cultivation.

It is true that large portions of Brazil, such as the jungles of the Amazon River basin, or the semi-arid northeast, just cannot support olive cultivation. But other regions of Brazil offer interesting possibilities, and research scientists have begun a number of agricultural research studies and tests to try to find the right combination of climatic conditions and olive tree cultivars to build a Brazilian olive oil industry from scratch. The preliminary results are very encouraging.

Maria da Fé, Minas Gerais
The largest project, and the one which is closest to developing a commercially viable domestic olive oil comes from the interior Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, where at higher altitudes the climate more closely mimics Mediterranean climate, particularly during wintertime, than does most of Brazil. An agricultural research organization, called Epamig (a Portuguese acronym for "Agricultural Research Institute of Minas Gerais") located promising land for olive tree cultivation in the small city of Maria da Fé , located in the south of Minas Gerais. They planted a research olive grove there more than fifty years ago, and only now are their efforts bearing fruit - figuratively and literally, since olive trees require at least fifty years before they provide a sustainable quantity of olives.

In 2008 the first viable harvest from the groves at Maria da Fé yielded one ton of olives, resulting in 200 liters of oil. In 2009, the harvest yielded 500 liters of oil, and in 2010 about 1000 liters. The scientific analysis of the oil from Maria da Fé is very encouraging. The oil is very low in acidity (0.39%), an important factor in valuing olive oil, as the acidity can be no more than (0.80%) for an oil to be considered extra-virgin.

Although the quantity of oil produced so far by Epamig is miniscule, groves have been planted in a number of locations with climate and soil conditions similar to those at Maria da Fé, and these groves will begin producing shortly. Farmers in the states of Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul and São Paulo, realizing the economic potential of olive cultivation have planted hundreds of thousands of trees, anticipating the future market for domestic olive oil.

Epamig Olive Oil
In September of 2010, Epamig brought their olive oil for the first time to ExpoAzeite, an olive oil trade fair held annually in São Paulo. Tastings were offered and the consensus was that Brazilian olive oil has nothing to be ashamed of and can stand in the market for olive oil on its own merits, not just on the fact that it is Brazilian.

Though the Brazilian olive oil industry is still very much in its infancy, one would be forgiven if one said that its future looks golden - olive-oil golden.

4 comments:

  1. These is a great post!
    Thanks for sharing :)

    Ray

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  2. Just like the southern states especially Georgia,Alabama,north & panhandle Florida are jumping on the olive & olive oil farming using hedge-row trees & Georgia has been experimenting 20-25 years & now the industry is taking off for both oil & table olives! Texas has vastly increased its plantings with a half million trees as of now! A new crop for the south! Even southern Oregon has some promise with cold-hardy types producing a greenish colored oil! Even in the orient, the Chinese/Koreans/Japanese are increasing their consumption of olive oil & this wil be a vast new market for olive oil!

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  3. May I ask, what is the cultivar that they've planted, and are having results from?

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