In Portugal, although there are remnants of the presence of the olive tree from the Bronze Age, it would have been the Romans and later the Visigoths and Arabs that contributed mostly to the development of its cultivation.
The philosopher, historian and geographer Strabo mentions exportation to Rome of the magnificent olive oil from the Alentejo plains while the historian and scientist Pliny admired the art of “pruning the olive trees” that were wisely cultivated among the grain fields.
The olive groves in the centre and south of Portugal were being planted and replanted as the centuries rolled by but it is the beginning of the 14th and 15th centuries, during the reign of King João I, that they became most abundant, mainly between Coimbra and Évora, extending through the valley of the Tagus from Santarém to Lisbon.
“The Rules for Press Operators of Olive Oil Presses” were the first standards written for the job of “olive press operator”. They emerged in 1572 as a part of the Rules for the Mechanical Occupations of the Most Noble and Always Loyal City of Lisbon. Licenses for Master of the Olive Press were given to the candidates, after they had been thoroughly examined, by taking an oath on the Holy Gospels. Thus, the quality of the olive oil and the professional competence of the producers were guaranteed.
With the Portuguese maritime expeditions to the African, Asian and American continents olive oil was “presented” to the world and took a major role in the trade made with these far off lands.
After the 60’s, Portuguese olive oil production and consumption decreased, mainly because it wasn’t considered economically interesting or healthy. It was the margarine era!
At the beginning of the 90’s, Portuguese consumption started to grow due to growing awareness of it’s health benefits and over the next 5 years production is expected to double.