Olive trees grow all over our country, even in those regions that are furthest north. Olive groves pepper the landscape, extending from the vast plains in the South through the hills of central Italy, up to the foot of the Alps. Italian olive oil, in all its countless facets, is the result of the multiple features of its olive plants.
The wide array of varieties is what really characterises our country. Olives grow everywhere, except in the Aosta valley. It is no coincidence that Italy is by far the country with the greatest biodiversity, with over 538 varieties of olive trees.
These are plants yielding unique oils, and are the pride and joy of the many olive farmers who have been looking after them year after year, generation after generation. For as long as we cultivate and preserve this precious heritage, Italian oil will always be something outstanding and unique. This is our key advantage over all the other oil-producing countries.
With a bit of imagination, when you savour an Italian oil, you can almost feel the physical presence of the many olive groves lining our countryside.
And while we pour that thick, glowing oil, while it flows slowly, gently swirling onto our dish, releasing its incredible bouquet of scents and fragrances, we can already anticipate its flavour: we cannot doubt its goodness and quality, especially when we have a bottle of extra virgin oil in our hands.
We should however stress that it is not only its large number of varieties that makes Italy such a unique and special country for oil. The skill and competence of Italian farmers and producers are equally envied, and this is why underlining the country of origin is so important when marketing a bottle of Italian oil. In every part of the world, consumers are attracted by anything made in Italy: our country is synonymous with history, tradition, and excellent food.
In many parts of the world, the traditional cuisine does not feature extra virgin olive oil, but it is now purchased and consumed even there. It has made itself a name, not only thanks to the many beneficial effects on our health, but also for its very pleasant flavour, and it comes as no surprise that it is in growing demand.
Only recently have people started to choose extra virgin olive oil for their diet, and in many ways, it symbolized kinship with health-conscious persons who wish to feel good about themselves. People who love Nature and its fruits. Because that is exactly what extra virgin olive oil is: the juice squeezed out of a fruit. This is how our oil is perceived in those faraway countries whose culinary traditions differ extensively from ours, so consumers choosing extra virgin olive oil, are unconsciously trying to live a life in harmony with Nature.
Extra virgin olive oil is also more satisfying, because unlike most other fats or oils, it possesses an incredibly rich palette of flavours and perfumes.
The preference given by the international consumer to all that is Italian is an undeniable fact. There may be an emotional component in this choice, but the fact remains. Doubtlessly, also our past plays in our favour.
The olive cultivation and oil-production tradition continues to dominate the consumers’ subconscious. We must bear in mind however that even the greatest traditions risk becoming a bit stale. This is why we should never rest on our laurels: tradition does not mean looking back at our past, but rather looking ahead to our future, without ignoring our past. Nowadays here in Italy we are becoming short-sighted, and less and less olive trees are being planted. Just like the current drop in birth rates, we are also witnessing a decrease in the number of olive trees. Every so often, periods of stagnation occur throughout history. Happy are the days with more children and olive trees.
Italy is still the protagonist of the olive oil sector, as can be deduced by the countless imitations of our products. One would wonder what is so special about Italian oil, seeing the increasing popularity of Italian-sounding branding.
Historically speaking, Italian oil has managed to make itself a name not only because it is the best expression of each territory – the perfect combination of environment and biodiversity – but also thanks to the human factor. Man plays a key role in the fine art of blending, that is to say the ability to combine different types of oil to create a product with a unique personality. The resulting oil not only has an outstanding flavour and perfume, but also improved tactile and kinaesthetic features, perceivable both when tasted alone or together with other foods. It is the task of these oil experts to correctly interpret the original oils, highlighting their features, and give a personal touch to the blend. The best oils are made by whoever understands what Nature has bestowed upon us – and as we all know, extra virgin olive oil, the only fruit-derived oil worthy of this name, is the undisputed king of oils.
There is only one, crucial question left: is Italy still investing in its future? Are we keeping in reserve the necessary resources, and training a new generation of experts?
In other words, does Italy want to continue to dominate the world market of extra virgin olive oil?
If I ask this question, it is because of the long period of crisis that the Italian oil sector is experiencing. Trees are no longer being planted, and this is causing concern among all those who strongly believe that olive cultivation is a priceless resource, not only for oil production, but also as an asset, increasing the beauty and appeal of our landscapes.
Milan, the driving force of Italian economy, will be hosting the next Olio Officina Festival, scheduled for January 21 to 23, 2016. The theme of the 6th festival is: “Vanguard. The oil of the future”. We can confidently state that Italy is looking ahead.