There’s a lot to love about Portugal. There are the sandy beaches, medieval castles, raucous festivals, vibrant cities, and Port, the iconic fortified wine from Porto. There’s also a lot to love about Portugal’s olive oils.
The olive tree has been a fixture on the Portuguese landscape for millenia. With its rich terroir and variable climate, Portugal is a perfect place for olives to grow.
And yet, its olive oil industry is still growing. Portugal’s olive production is dwarfed by neighboring Spain, who leads the world in volume of olive oil produced. While Portugal barely cracks the top ten, that may soon change. Thanks to recent investment in Alentejo, one of the country’s most productive regions, the industry is expected to grow.
As for now, the country is home to many small producers making delicious olive oils that range from sweet and delicate to bold and spicy. Here’s your guide to Portuguese olive oils.
What makes Portuguese olive oil special?
Portuguese olive oil is characterized by its fruity aroma, gold-to-green color, and range of flavors, from spicy to sweet, depending on when it was harvested. Most of the olive oils are made in six Protected Designation of Origin regions. The strongest protection that can be given to a food, this means that the essential elements of the food must be determined by the location, and all elements of the production must take place there.
These six regions are the Trás-os-Montes, Beira Interior, Ribatejo, Norte Alentejano, Moura, and Alentejo Interior. Portuguese olive oil lovers can take a tour of the country, exploring the towns, cuisines, and olive groves of these regions. Or, they can get to know the terroir by tasting olive oils alone. Read on for a tour of Portugal’s olive-growing regions.
Olive Oil from Trás-os-Montes
Trás-os-Montes, set in the northeastern region of Porto, is a beautiful region of rolling hills painted with vineyards, mountains, almond orchards, and, of course, olive groves. While the Alentejo produces most of Portugal’s olive oil, Trás-os-Montes comes in second place. The olive oils from this region are slightly bitter and pungent, with a lingering peppery taste.
Olives are cultivated in the Terra Quente, or “hot land.” The Olive Oil Route winds through fifteen councils: Alfândega da Fé, Alijó, Bragança, Carrazeda de Ansiães, Freixo de Espada à Cinta, Macedo de Cavaleiros, Mirandela, Mogadouro, Murça, Tabuaço, Torre de Moncorvo, Valpaços, Vila Flor, Vila Nova de Foz Coa, and Vimioso.
Portuguese olive oil lovers can visit the small olive oil farms along the Olive Oil Route by bike, on foot, or by car. Along the way, you may be welcomed inside the factories to learn about the traditional manufacturing processes of this region, as well as the more modern techniques that are ramping up the local olive oil industry.
While in the area, you would be remiss to skip the vineyards of the Douro Valley, which has been garnering more acclaim in recent years.
Taste Trás-os-Montes olive oil
One of the best olive oils from this region is the Magna Olea PDO Trás-os-Montes. This medium, blended olive oil took home the silver award at the 2020 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition. It was a particularly exciting win for them, as the 2019 weather had posed challenges.
Olive Oil from the Beira Interior
South of the Douro Valley is the Beira Interior. In the heart of Portugal, this is a beautiful region of spectacular scenery that the tourists often skip. But Portuguese olive oil lovers should seek it out. Many fine olive oils are produced in Beira Alta and Beira Baixa.
Olive oil is very much a part of life in this region. It’s found its way into local sweets, like the local popovers called cavacas, and into traditional medicine. Traditionally, locals took a spoonful of olive oil with honey for an upset stomach or a cold.
The Beira Interior is made up of 24 municipalities, where olive groves blanket the hillsides and the banks of the Tejo river. While the north is more mountainous, the south is home to many olive oil estates. There are a few essential sites for those on an olive oil tour.
- Stop at the charming Museu do Azeite (Olive Oil Museum) in Belmonte to learn about how the local olive oil is made and how it has affected the local economy.
- Visit the Olive Oil Museum Centre in Proença-a-Velha to see a collection of olive oil presses and taste the local olive oils.
- Head to the historic village of Idanha-a-Velha to find olive trees that are centuries old. To learn more, step inside the Lagar de Varas, a restored stone barn with a traditional olive oil press made with a huge tree trunk.
Taste Beira Interior olive oil
One of the best olive oils from this region is the Ethos Galega PDO Beira Interior Olive Oil. Ripe and fruity, this olive oil is made from a young olive grove on a private farm in the Mondego Valley.
Tasting olive oil in Ribatejo
To the south towards Lisbon is Ribatejo, is a region all its own. Meaning “above the Tejo,” this is the only province in Portugal that does not border Spain or the ocean. Aside from its unique character, this region is very agricultural, growing grapes, corn, rice, wheat, tomatoes, olives and more. As such, this is a region of delicious, fresh cuisine. Interestingly enough, this is also where Portugal breeds its bulls.
Olive oil has been produced here since the 18th century, and is a staple in local cuisine, featuring in everything from soups to pastries. The olive oils in this region are made primarily from Galega olives. These olive oils have a low acidity, yellow-to-green hue, and a mellow, sweet flavor. Here’s what to see in Ribatejo.
- Visit the Convent of Christ in Tomar, a UNESCO-protected convent built by the Knights Templar. The 12th-13th century olive oil presses are being turned into a museum.
Taste Ribatejo olive oil
One of the best olive oils from this region is the Casa Anadia POD Ribatejo Olive Oil. Made from Galega and Cobrançosa olives, this EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) is medium and fruity, with notes of apple, olive leaf, and nuts. It is slightly bitter and spicy.
Olive oils from Alentejo
Set in the south of Portugal is the mighty Alentejo. Covering a third of the country, it has vast plains, rolling hills, and a stunning coastline dotted with traditional villages and medieval cities. It’s also the heart of Portugal’s olive oil production, home to large industrial farms, small, family-owned groves and everything in between.
This region is home to three separate DOP regions:
- North Alentejo, which stretches from Portalegre to Reguengos de Monsaraz. These olive oils are thicker in consistency, with gold-to-green coloring and a fruity taste.
- Moura, which includes three varieties of olive oil: Cordovil de Serpa, Galega Vulgar, and Verdeal Alentejana. These high-quality olive oils are very fruity, bitter, and spicy. In fact, there’s a Portuguese saying that goes, “as fine as Moura olive oil.” While in Moura, be sure to visit the local Olive Oil Museum.
- Alentejo Interior, which includes the municipalities of Portel, Vidigueira, and Torrão. Olive oils from this region have a sweet taste of fig, apple, and ripe olives.
This region is also home to the olives of Elvas and Campo Maior, high-quality table olives that are also DOP-certified.
Taste Alentejo olive oil
Some of Portugal’s most acclaimed olive oil in Portugal comes from Alentejo. Oliviera da Serra consistently wins gold at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition. Their olives are grown in Ferreira do Alentejo, Campo Maior, Elvas, and Aviz. Their classic EVOO is fruity, versatile, and slightly bitter.
Recipes with Portuguese olive oil
- According to food writer David Leite, this Portuguese Orange and Olive Oil Cake is “dense, moist, and deeply flavored.” Opt for a delicate EVOO for this recipe. (Are you gluten free? Try our Gluten Free Lemon Olive Oil Cake instead.)
- There are few things more Portuguese than fresh seafood. Grill or bake a piece of cod, a flaky white fish, or, if you’re brave, an octopus. Then, drizzle it all in high-quality, delicate EVOO and serve with chopped coriander.
- A Portuguesse comfort food classic is migas, or “crumbs” with poached eggs. A great clean-out-the-pantry-recipe, this calls for day-old bread, eggs, garlic, and olive oil.
- Read more about how to use different olive oils here.
Tasting for Portuguese olive oil lovers
Can’t make it to Portugal this year? Take a tour through this country’s rich terroir at home instead. An olive oil tasting is a fun way to pick on the nuances of every local varietal. Here are our tips for hosting your own olive oil tasting.