Italian olive oil is quite well known in the United States and has been for a long time. What is new however are the number of olive oils available and the differences among them. Numerous Italian regions produce olive oil and most of them are trying to get into the US marketplace. Among the most important are Tuscany, Umbria, Apulia, Sicilia, Calabria and Liguria. There are also areas in some of the other 20 regions that produce olive oil such as Lago di Garda in Lombardy/Veneto.
The olive was originally planted in the South Caucasus and spread from there to Rhodes, Cyprus and Crete and then to the entire Mediterranean basin. Olive cultivation in Apulia, for example, dates back to 800 a.c. when Greek settlers migrated to the region during the era called Magna Grecia. Some 40% of Italian olive oil actually comes from Apulia.
One of the characteristics of olive oil from Apulia is that it is quite full bodied, more so, for example, than oils from Liguria, Lake Garda or Tuscany. It has rich aromas and flavors and considerable nutritional characteristics including a high level of vitamin E and other substances which protect against degenerative diseases and aging.
Just like with wine grapes, there are many different types of olives, each producing oil with various characteristics. In Apulia, some of the varieties include:
Coratina which produces an olive oil that is fruity and slightly spicy.
Ogliarola which produces an oil that is almost sweet and has an aroma of almonds.
Ogliarola Garganica and Parenzana which make fruity and quite well balanced oil.
Cellina and Saracena which produce oil that can be almost salty.
Olive oil can also be used for numerous purposes in the kitchen and out. In the kitchen, some of the lighter oils such as those made from coratina work very well with salads. Other that are slightly heavier and are a bit spicy enhance grilled meats and vegetables. Still others work for frying foods.
The final product depends largely on the quality of the olive and how it is cared for during harvest and pressing. Following the harvest which should be done by hand as much as possible, olives are washed before being sorted and eventually pressed. Olives must be pressed within 24 hours after they are gathered.
Apulia has a number of products which have the special Denominazione d’orgine protetta (DOP) label including Olio Extravergine di oliva Collina di Brindisi DOP, Olio Extravergine di oliva Dauna DOP, Olio Extravergine di oliva Terra d’Otranto DOP, Olio Extravergine di oliva Terra di Bari DOP, and Olio Extravergine di oliva Terre Tarantine DOP.
While Apulia is only one of many regions in Italy that produces olive oil, it gives you an idea of how many oils there are and how each one has different characteristics depending on the terroir where they are grown, the cultivar and the climate conditions in that area. Check out the oils at Alta Cucina’s store.