EVOO Stories

Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Italian cultivar

Written by Veronica Lavenia

The quality of Italian extra virgin olive oil is indisputable worldwide. Knowledge of the matter by producers, fertile and diversified soils from region to region, valuable varieties, Slow Food Presidia, DOP brands, and much more, make Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil one of the finest products.

The largest production of Italian extra virgin olive oil comes from Southern Italy, in particular Puglia and Sicily. Connoisseurs and enthusiasts, however, know that there are many Italian regions whose production of EVOO is equally interesting. For this reason, just like for wine, when we talk about extra virgin olive oil we must decline in the plural: oils and not oil. Each oil expresses the personality, history and characteristics of a different specific territory within the same region. For this reason, tasting an EVOO, different each time, means expanding one’s knowledge on the subject, through new sensory and tasting experiences.

SICILY:

According to historical evidence, the olive plant was introduced in Sicily by the Phoenicians, who in their migration in the sixteenth century. B.C. towards Greece and the Aegean islands, they spread its cultivation in Asia Minor, Egypt and Libya, and from here to Sicily.

The first knowledge of the olive tree on the largest island in the Mediterranean, can be traced back to the myth of Aristeo, an agro-pastoral deity, revered by the ancient Sicilian populations for having disclosed the cultivation technique of the olive tree and the first rudimentary extraction methods.
During the Roman Empire, the olive tree was the most widespread in Sicily.
The Romans also prepared ointments with oil, used it as fuel and more.

With the decline of the Roman Empire and the Arab domination in Sicily, the cultivation of the olive tree was neglected in favor of other species, such as citrus fruits.

After the year one thousand, with the Norman domination, and, subsequently, in the Middle Ages, there was a gradual repopulation of the olive growing areas and a notable relaunch of the oil trade.

Isolana olive production is extensive and is characterized by numerous varieties of species that offer high and diversified qualities of olives.

The main varieties that characterize Sicilian olive production are: Nocellara del Belice; Verdese; Moresca; Tonda Iblea; Biancolilla; Cerasuola; Minute; Ogliarola; Nocellara etnea.

Nocellara del Belice takes its name from the Belice Valley where it grows. This is a very valuable cultivar which, at the end of the nineties, obtained the DOP certification. It is also one of the oldest cultivars, as it has been present on the Sicilian territory for some centuries. The aromatic intensity is interesting in balance between bitter and spicy.

Verdese is an ecotype of the Etnean Nocellara, widespread between Catania and Syracuse, with a slightly spicy flavor.

Moresca, typical of the central eastern part of the region, is mainly intended for the production of black olives in brine.

Tonda Iblea is widespread in the provinces of Syracuse and Ragusa. It has an intense taste, with a prevalence of bitter and spicy.

The Biancolilla cultivar is among the oldest and most valuable in Western Sicily. Its olives produce an aromatic, lightly fruity oil.

Cerasuola is typical of the provinces of Palermo, Agrigento and Trapani. Cultivar resistant to drought, it produces fruity oils of medium intensity, with taste notes between bitter, spicy and sweet.

The Minuta cultivar, widespread in the Nebrodi area, resists climatic weather and has notes between bitter and spicy.

Ogliarola Messinese is mainly cultivated in hilly areas between Messina and Palermo. The resulting oil is lightly fruity, slightly spicy and aromatic.

Nocellara Etnea has intense and spicy notes. Usually, to add a fruity sensation to this cultivar, they are mixed with a small part of Tonda Iblea, Moresca or Ogliarola Messinese olives.

PUGLIA:

The Apulian production, as ancient and noble as the Sicilian one, is just as relevant.

Since the times of the Greeks and Romans, the history of Apulian oil has evolved to allow the production of different cultivars. Historical testimonies confirm that since the Middle Ages, in the face of growing demand from European countries, crops have also grown, so as to make Puglia in the eighteenth century the region par excellence of oil for food purposes (other oils were used as fuels, for their poor quality).

As for the largest island in the Mediterranean, even for Puglia the landscapes are mainly characterized by millenary plants, especially from the Gargano to Salento.

The varieties of the Apulian olive production are: Coratina; Ogliarola from Bari; Ogliarola Salentina; Ogliarola Garganica; Cellina di Nardò; Cima di Mola and Peranzana.

The Coratina cultivar is present throughout Puglia with intense and spicy fruity oils.

The Ogliarola of Bari is grown in the central-southern area of ​​the province of Bari. The fruits are small and the oils have a sweet taste with a slight tingle.

The Salento Ogliarola, widespread in Salento and in the province of Lecce, has large dimensions and differs from the Barese in more subdued tastes.

The Ogliarola garganica grows in the province of Foggia and has fruity and persistent scents.

Cellina di Nardò is resistant to adverse climate conditions. The oil obtained has notes of wild berries.

Cima di Mola is widespread in the southern area of ​​Bari. The oil, with its intense fruitiness, has notes of tomato and chicory.

Peranzana, characterized by herbaceous notes and a balanced taste, has a very low acidity.

MOLISE:

Told by the Romans, Molise extra virgin olive oil has ancient origins, which is why in 2004 it obtained the DOP Molise label.

A limited production compared to other regions, due to the small size of Molise, yet very active and interesting.

Molise olive groves are rich in centuries-old olive trees whose varieties are: Aurina di Venafro; Gentile di Larino; Spur of Gallo; Rumignana; Colletorto black olive.

The Aurina di Venafro cultivar is an ancient native olive tree, whose oil has a delicate flavor with a slightly spicy aftertaste.

Gentile di Larino is the most widespread variety in the region, with oils with bitter and spicy notes.

Sperone di Gallo is one of the most particular varieties. The olive tree is long and curved and, when ripe, shrivels, taking the shape of a rooster’s spur, hence the name.

Rumignana is a very fine cultivar with harmonic scents.

Colletorto black olive, gives very fragrant oils with an intense taste with bitter and spicy notes.

ABRUZZO:

Abruzzo is the fifth Italian region for the production of olive oil. Half of the region’s production is concentrated in the province of Chieti, while the other half is distributed between the cities of Pescara, Teramo and L’Aquila.

The main varieties they define are: Gentile di Chieti; Straight; Intosso; Castiglionese; Toccolana; Nebbio Cucco; Ghiandaro; Monicella; Tortiglione.

Gentile di Chieti is resistant to cold and has a constant productivity. The oils have fruity scents.

The Dritta cultivar also has fruity notes. It owes its name to the position of the branches and leaves facing the sky.

The Intosso cultivar has fruity notes and is a variety used mainly as a table olive.

Castiglionese takes its name from the area of ​​Castiglione where it is grown. Known for its beauty but also for its low oil yield.

Toccolana is so named for the town of origin from which it derives. It has medium bitter and spicy notes.

Monicella gives oil with green reflections, with a fruity and light aroma of fresh almond and bitter notes of artichoke.

Tortiglione, the spiraling trunk probably determines the name. Alternating variety and medium yield in oil with small fruit. The oil produced is very rich in polyphenols, so much so that it is particularly bitter. It can also be used to enhance low fruity oils.

BASILICATA:

The main varieties that characterize the Lucanian production are: Majatica; Ogliarola del Bradano; Ogliarola del Vulture.

The Majatica cultivar gives oils with fruity hints of artichoke, tomato and fresh almond.

Ogliarola del Bradano offers oils with notes of almond, artichoke and bitter herbs.

Ogliarola del Vulture or Cima di Melfi gives oils with notes of fresh almond and a combination of bitter and spicy.

CAMPANIA:

Olive history as rich and ancient as the previous regions. The varieties that characterize its production are: Tonda del Matese; Ravece; Ogliarola; Marinese; Salella; Oritce; Racioppella; Cammarotana; Minucciola; Ruveja; Olivella; Rotondella.

Tonda del Matese gives oils with hints of green almond and grass and bitter-spicy notes.

Ravece is a rustic variety whose oils have an intense fruitiness with hints of tomato leaf, artichoke and green almond.

Ogliarola produces oils with a bitter and slightly spicy taste.

Marinese has fresh green olive notes with spicy and persistent notes.

Salella offers green fruity oils.

The Ortice cultivar is appreciated for the high quality level of the oils and has bitter/spicy notes.

Racioppella gives medium fruity oils, with notes of bitter grass and vegetables.

The Cammarotana produces more or less every year. From it derive oils with distinctly spicy notes.

Minucciola is a predominant cultivar in the Sorrentine Peninsula. The oils have a hint of rosemary, pleasant bitter and lightly spicy.

Ruveja, with upright posture, medium thick crown, characterized by medium vigor and high but alternating productivity.

EMILIA ROMAGNA:

The varieties that characterize the Emilia Romagna olive production are: Nostrana di Brisighella; Icicle; Correct it;

Nostrana di Brisighella gives olives that give a marked scent.

The Ghiacciola gives oils defined by the technicians as “elegant”, with evifente notes of olive.

Correggiolo offers oils with a medium-light fruity and delicate taste.

Selvatico is a very rustic cultivar that gives oils with pleasant bitter and spicy scents.

TUSCANY:

The Tuscan olive-growing heritage includes over 15 million plants, more than 90% consists of a few varieties: Frantoio, Moraiolo, Leccino, Maurino, Pendolino and Olivastra Seggianese.

Frantoio is the most widespread cultivar in the region, and in olive growing areas in general, and is the one that characterizes the quality of Tuscan oil the most. It gives oils with intense aromas and great finesse.

Leccino is a cultivar that offers oils with a neutral and not too aromatic flavor, with a bitter and slightly spicy aftertaste.

The Moraiolo cultivar derives its name from the intense dark color that the fruits take on when ripe. The oil is characterized by very strong bitter and spicy notes.

Pendolino derives its name from the long fruiting branches characterized by the characteristic pendulous bearing that calls the plant.

Maurino is originally from the Lucca area but today it is widespread throughout Tuscany. During flowering, the species loses about 10% of the total bud production, and this means that the plant has a not too abundant inflorescence. The ripening of the fruit (veraison), is rather early, generating a small fruit.

The Olivastra seggianese cultivar bears slow and gradual ripening fruits. The oil has notes of ripe olive and a balanced sweet sensation.

LAZIO:

The varieties that characterize the Lazio olive production are: Itrana; Raja; Caninese:

The cultvar Itrana, typical of the province of Latina, offers oils with distinctly herbaceous characteristics.

Raja is an ancient Roman variety that produces medium intensity herbaceous oils.

Caninese produces intensely fruity extra virgin olive oils, with bitter and spicy notes.

From the cultuvar Rosciola comes an extra virgin with sweet and fruity notes.

The Carboncella, typical of the Sabina area, thanks to its adaptability then spread along the Apennine belt. The cultivar gives fruity oils.

Salvia or Salviana is originally from Palombara Sabina and, precisely, from the locality of Salvia, from which it is thought the name derives. The oil has a herbaceous character, with bitter and spicy notes.

SARDINIA:

Olive growing is of considerable importance in Sardinia both from an economic and historical point of view.

The main varieties that characterize Sardinian olive production are: Nera di Villacidro; Bosana; Nera di Oliena; Round of Cagliari; Pitz’e Carroga or Bianca di Villacidro.

Nera di Villacidro gives the oils sweeter sensations of ripe fruit and tomato, with very slight bitterness and spiciness.

Bosana, a typical variety of the province of Sassari, gives an oil of strong personality, with strong bitter and spicy notes.

Nera di Oliena, generates oils with a strong personality, with the right balance between fruity and pleasant notes of spicy bitterness.

Tonda di Cagliari offers oils with light fruity notes, accompanied by light bitterness and medium spicy.

Pitz’e Carroga or Bianca di Villacidro gives light olive oils with a fruity tendency, with a spicy aftertaste of short persistence and slight bitterness.

PH: Veronica Lavenia

Friuli Venezia Giulia:

Friulian extra virgin olive oil is located on the slopes in the hilly area, caressed by the sea breeze.

The main varieties that characterize the regional olive production are: Bianchera or Belica; Buga; Carbona;

Bianchera or Belica gives oils, with a medium intense fruitiness, with herbaceous hints and a characteristic bitter and spicy flavor.

Buga gives oil with herbaceous notes and is basically sweet.

Carbona offers light oils, tending to a sweet taste.

Gorgazzo gives intense fruity oils, with hints of fresh grass and artichoke.

LIGURIA:

Ligurian olive growing reaches its maximum expansion in the early nineteenth century. Today, the Ligurian olive sector occupies an important space from an economic point of view.

The varieties that characterize the Ligurian olive production are: Taggiasca; Pignola or Arnasca; Lavagnina; Razzola;

The Taggiasca cultivar offers oils with sweet scents, delicate notes of spicy bitterness.

Pignola or Arnasca gives an oil with a delicate flavor, with a bitter aftertaste.

Lavagnina owes its name to the city of Lavagna. It gives oils with a sweet, savory taste, with pleasant bitter-spicy notes.

Razzola offers oils with bitter-spicy notes.

MARCHE:

The Marche has a centuries-old tradition in olive cultivation.

The crops mainly concern the hilly areas, distributed mainly in the provinces of Ascoli and Macerata.

The main varieties that characterize the Marche olive production are: Ascolana tenera; Little finger; Chaplet; Piantone of Mogliano and Piantone of Falerone.

Ascolana tender is originally from the province of Ascoli Piceno but it is cultivated throughout the region. The oil has a medium fruitiness, with hints of tomato and artichoke, with bitter-spicy notes.

The Mignola gives oils with a markedly bitter-spicy taste.

Coroncina, typical of the province of Macerata, derives its name from the protrusion in the fruit, similar to a chaplet. Gives delicately fruity oils.

Piantone di Mogliano and Piantone di Falerone gives oil is lightly fruity, tending to be sweet with bitter and spicy, due to the early harvest. The Piantone di Falerone can be placed in Ascoli Piceno. It gives medium-light fruity oils, initially sweet with a bitter aftertaste.

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About the author

Veronica Lavenia

PhD (former University academic). Italian based (food) writer and magazine contributor. Authors of six books (five cookbooks), some of her works have appeared and appears in the most popular International food magazine, as “Gluten-free Heaven”; "Vegetarian Living"; "Veggie Magazine"; "Lifestyle FOOD"; "Australian Good Food & Travel Guide; "Chickpea";" TML" (The Mediterranean lifestyle), among others. EVOO Communicator.