Oliva: How Ancient Fables Become Award-Winning Olive Oils
A modern oil mill sits strategically between the mountains and the sea in one of the world’s most famous oil-producing areas in southeastern Sicily.
Azienda Agricola Oliva greets visitors with prickly pears, thousands of centuries-old olive trees and dozens of colorful lemon trees.
We pride ourselves on living in a friendly land full of color and culture, and that’s what our Favola (extra virgin olive oil) is all about.
For years, the Oliva family’s extra virgin olive oil has won coveted quality awards, including a Gold Award in 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.
The small, upscale producer has more than 5,000 olive trees, and their olive oils have been showcased in local restaurants for decades. The family began their olive oil adventure in 1957 and the founders built strong roots within the local community.
See also: Producer Profiles
Oliva means olive in Italian. In Sicily (and elsewhere in southern Italy as well), many common surnames are linked to the region’s traditional economic activities.
“Our family name comes from the history of this region, where the cultivation of the olive tree has ancient roots,” said Francesca Oliva, owner of the company. Olive Oil Times. “More recently, since the 1960s, our olive oil mill has been processing olives from across the region and the family also used to buy olives from producers located in adjacent locations.
“Given the growing interest shown by our international guests and friends from abroad, in 2013 we decided to transform our operations into a business focused on our olive trees,” she added. “Product excellence has helped us reach overseas.
“Since then, we have slowly added new olive groves to our land,” Oliva continued. “We are also planting new orchards. But we do not aim to become large-scale olive oil producers, because we aim for quality, organic and sustainable production. »
One of the driving forces behind the Oliva family’s efforts to reach the international market has been the many guests visiting the mill and tasting their extra virgin olive oils.
Today, olive oil tourism is at the center of recent Italian legislation paving the way for a new form of tourism. The latest effort to promote traditional olive oil production follows the success of wine tourism, which has combined tourism and wine production over the past two decades.
“We have been welcoming our visitors for many years before the law,” Oliva said. “When they arrive, we show them around, introduce them to the best qualities of extra virgin olive oil, let them taste our products and share with them the passion and work behind such excellence.
The main olive varieties of the Oliva family include the local Tonda Iblea, both for the production of olive oil and table olives. Strong and tall, Tonda Iblea trees thrive in the gentle hills of the island and are also known for their large drupes.
From these drupes, the Oliva family produces Favola, “fable” in English, an award-winning organic extra virgin olive oil.
“Our olive oil represents the roots of agricultural Sicily, from a time not too long ago when farmers and workers shared their days on the farm, meeting at night around the same table to tell each other the cattraditional tales told to entertain guests,” Oliva said.
“Favola is a small piece of our history,” she added. “It is also the story of our food culture, a product harvested and bottled by hand.
Favola is a robust monovarietal with taste sensations of artichoke, red pepper, tomato and herbs.
“We do not use chemical treatments on our olive trees,” Oliva said. “We carefully follow each stage of maturation and manual harvesting at the best possible time of the season. Usually it would be an early harvest to confirm Favola’s unique qualities year after year.
Within 12 hours of harvest, the olives reach the high-tech family mill and are processed into extra virgin olive oil.
“We are proud to live in a friendly land full of color and culture, and that is what our Favola is,” said Oliva. “Tonda Iblea is the most valuable cultivar in the Syracuse region. Its characteristics produce the fruity taste sensation of green tomato leaf that makes it recognizable and often unforgettable.
The Oliva family also cultivates Cerasuola olives, the trees of which can easily be spotted in western Sicily. From this other local variety, the Oliva family also produces the Sicilian monovarietal IGP (Protected Geographical Indication).
Among the characteristics of the Cerasuola variety, it is resistant to drought and a warmer climate.
“Yes, our orchards are actually very close to the weather station, which reported the highest temperature on record last year,” Oliva said.
In July 2021, heat waves in southern Italy caused unprecedented temperatures, including the 48.8 ºC recorded in Sicily, a record for continental Europe.
This heat wave was followed by excessive rainfall, which extended into the first weeks of the olive harvest season.
“Still, the current season’s harvest is modest in terms of quantity, but the quality has increased over the past few years,” Oliva said.
The Oliva family also uses Cerasuola olives in their Favola blend, as well as the Sicilian variety Nocellara Etnea.
“Nocellara Etnea generally has a light fruitiness, bitterness and spiciness of light to medium intensity,” Oliva said. “It can recall notes of almond and, sometimes, of ripe fruit.
The family also produces a single-variety Moresca extra virgin olive oil, touted for its high polyphenol content. The variety is also widely loved by farmers for its generally consistent yields, which are only partially affected by the typical alternating rolling pattern of olive trees.
Compared to the Tonda Iblea monovarietal, the Moresca olives produce a less pronounced and fruity olive oil, with only a few notes of bitterness and spiciness and flavors of almond and green apple.
One of the goals of the Oliva family is to provide its customers with a better understanding of extra virgin olive oil and its price. Olive argued that this education simply begins with tasting the product.
“Producers should come together to give fair value to their products,” Oliva said. “They could approach consumers in innovative ways, have their customers taste the different cultivars and understand their characteristics. »
“You don’t have to have a professional palate to appreciate the flavor of excellent extra virgin olive oil over inferior olive oils,” she added. “An excellent extra virgin olive oil cannot be sold at an unsustainable price.
The family is also investing in smart packaging for its extra virgin olive oils, with its bottles traditionally shipped in recyclable and reusable containers that are protected from light.
“When we talk about selling extra virgin olive oils to households, large cans should be banned,” she said. “Families buy this box. Then they have to pour it into other containers, which puts quality and resilience at risk.
“These boxes also retain some of the produce, which is unacceptable given the quality,” she added. “More should be done to give value to the products.
In addition to traditional bottles, the family has also invested in other formats, such as 25 milliliter containers, often sold to restaurants. This packaging method also protects the product while allowing interested customers to sample the flavors of the different varieties.
“We believe that olive growing can be a valuable driver of change while supporting other businesses,” concluded Oliva. “This can generate new value for tourism and increase interest in the development of a new green economy.