During the Middle Ages, olive oil was a basic element of people’s diet, along with vegetables, pulses, nuts and dried fruit, cereals, meat and wine. Medieval society was based on agriculture, mainly aimed at subsistence farming which generated just enough for family needs. All that was produced was consumed by the farmers and only in the exceptionally good harvest years did they sell the surplus.

Most villages had at least one olive oil mill, known as the MOLÍ DEL COMÚ or DE LA VILA (Community Mill or the Town’s Mill), which covered the inhabitants demands. It belonged to the feudal lords of the area and a stipulated price was levied in kind for its use.

The importance of olive oil production, in the fields as well as in the mill, is reflected in the laws of each village. The ordinances were a set of orders which regulated the services and traditions of the village. In Reus, for example, we can find rules relating to the prohibition of scavenging for olives, rules on the grafting of olive trees, measures of oil, its commercialisation and merchants of oil or the working and renting of the olive oil mills. At the start of the fifteenth century, aspects were regulated which may appear to be just as important today such as the pollution caused by the wrongful dumping of olive oil and its waste products.

“Hereby we order that all men or other persons of the town and area of Reus involved in the working of olive oil within the town’s limits in the neighbourhood of the fountain take into account the sewage drain through which the dirty water of oil passes. This foul water should be treated in such a way that it is not returned to the drinking trough otherwise those responsible will be faced with a penalty of 20 Florins”


Around 1600, Pere Gil (1551-1628) in his Geography of Catalonia, made an interesting reference to the oil-producing zones of Catalonia in which he mentioned the high quality of the oils from the Tarragona area.

“Olive oil is cultivated throughout Catalonia; except in the Pyrenees and its foothills, three or four or five leagues from there, and excepting the Pla d’Osona. The rest of Catalonia cultivates olive oil in abundance to such an extent that there is hardly every any need for Catalonia to buy oil from other provinces: for many years Catalonia has sent oil to many other parts and provinces. Oil is produced in greater quantities in some parts of Catalonia than in others: this is because there is more abundance in the coastal areas. Olive oil from Catalonia is generally very good; much better than that of Majorca, because it is clearer, lighter and tastier: and the olive oil from the Tarragona area is famed for being the most delicate and excellent oil of the whole of Catalonia.”

The agricultural world underwent a change in the eighteenth century. If, up until this moment, the subsistence economy predominated, profits from working the land were beginning to become a source of income. The main causes were principally, the increase in cultivated land thanks to deforestation, the intensification of the farming methods, specialisation of crops, better marketing of products and the increase in prices and wages. Despite the excellent quality of the olive oils produced, the Tarragona area specialised in cultivating grapes, benefiting from an intense international demand for wines and spirits at that time. This circumstance was detrimental to the planting of olive trees and moreover, many of them ended up as fuel for local distilleries.

10 Reasons for eating Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  • It is the only oil which is obtained by purely mechanical methods.
  • It is in effect natural olive juice.
  • It is the most vitamin-rich of all the oils (vitamins E,A and D) and the only one with poly-phenols, highly effective natural anti-oxidants.
  • It is the healthiest of all the oils and also the easiest to digest.
  • It is a nutritious product. Despite its calories, some recent studies have started to suggest that it does not lead to weight gain.
  • It is beneficial to bone growth, brain development and the nervous system as it contains oleic acid.
  • It is perfect for circulatory and cardiovascular diseases and it also reduces cholesterol.
  • It is good for the skin thanks to its high content of vitamin E.
  • It is better for frying as it can reach temperatures of more than 180ºC
  • It is also cheaper as it can be used more than once.
  • It gives the best taste to sauces, salads, stews and is the only one which does not leave a greasy aftertaste after eating.

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