From Tree to Table: The Story of Italian Olive Oil Production

Puglia's 1,000 mills supply 40% of Italy's olive oil production, and 12% of the world's supply.

By: Rachel Vadaj, ISDA Editor 

Olive oil is an essential part of Italian-American food culture, and is key to Italy’s economic livelihood.

It may be simpler to name the Italian dishes you’d find on the Sunday Supper table that don’t use the ingredient, rather than the scores of recipes that do. With a taste so purely delicious, it’s understandable why most Italian Americans grew up dipping their bread in olive oil rather than buttering it.

It’s no surprise that Italy is one of the world leaders in olive oil production because of its prime location in the heart of the Mediterranean. However, Italy’s climate isn’t the only contributing factor to their success in the business.

The Italians, the Romans and peoples before them have cultivated this liquid gold over thousands of years. There are olive trees in the southern region of Puglia that are centuries old.

This region’s 1,000 mills supply 40% of Italy’s olive oil production and 12% of the world’s supply. That may seem surprising, but there are 15x more olive trees than people in Puglia.

Now, we’ve all seen bottles of olive oil in the grocery store labeled “extra-virgin,” but what is the difference between that and simply “virgin” (which you may have a much harder time finding in stores)?

Extra-virgin is when the olives are cold pressed, unrefined, and made without any chemicals. Cold pressing ensures no heat is used above approximatly 60 degrees Fahrenheit, because heat destroys antioxidants.

This process makes it the highest grade of olive oil, but quality is another factor. For an extra-virgin olive oil to be a high quality, it must have an acidity level of less than 0.8%.

To see how olive oil is produced from tree to table, showing is a bit more hunger-inducing than just telling:

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