Making Authentic Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oils

Nov 1, 2018

Making Italian extra-virgin olive oils is an old and respected faucet of culinary arts. Few may love true Italian olive oil as much as UNAPROL, the National Union of Olive Producers, an organization that brings several millennia of Italian olive culture, some 550,000 olive groves and more than 300 individual olive cultivars under the shelter of a single umbrella organization whose aim is to protect the quality and authenticity of Italian Olive Oil, and the livelihoods of its producers.

In this Isola Imports blog you'll explore Italian olive growing practices and how high quality extra virgin olive oil is made with references UNAPROL's Portfoil publication which was created with support from the Italian Ministry of Agricultural Food and Forest Politics.

“The quality of extra-virgin olive oil originates in the field, from healthy, damage-free olive fruits at the right stage of ripening. Fruit storage, processing fruits into oil, and subsequent oil storage can only preserve the initial potential quality, but can never restore properties undermined by fruits of poor quality.” – UNAPROL Consorzio Olivicolo Italiano

How are high quality olives grown?

  • Soil and Climate: Olive growing is inherently bound to the Mediterranean climate, with its mild winters, hot and dry summers, and rainfalls that mostly occur in the autumn and spring. In relatively cold climates the low temperatures of autumn slow down the olives' ripening process, which results in oils that are highly valued by consumers because of the high content of oleic acid and minor components.
  • Cultivars: A study commissioned by FAO, published in 1998, indicated that there are 538 Italian native cultivars, out of a total 1275 cultivars worldwide.
  • Protecting against Parasites and Diseases: Protecting olive groves doesn't require many pesticide applications and healthy olives can be obtained from cooler climates with little to no applications each year thanks to favorable environmental conditions and useful insects.
  • Planting density: The density of modern olive orchards usually ranges between 300 to 600 trees per hectare.
  • Pruning: Pruning is an expensive but necessary practice that must be performed taking into account both the biology of the olive tree and orchard performance. From a technical standpoint, pruning is done by eliminating entire shoots or branches or by heading back cuts. The optimal period is from the end of winter through late spring.
  • Training System: Is the result of the growing habit or the tree and pruning practices over time. Regardless of the training system, it is important that the height of a tree does not exceed 5 meters.
  • Soil Management: Affects the physical properties, chemical and microbiological equilibria of the soil, but does not seem to have an impact on oil quality.
  • Fertilization: In order to produce large yields, olive trees need ample nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and boron.
  • Irrigation: Olive trees are among the most resistant fruit crops to water deficit, but orchards in areas such as southern Italy, Sicily, and Sardinia greatly benefit from irrigation due to their long, dry summers.
  • Harvesting: Olives can be picked by hand right off the tree, or with handheld equipment. With the pruning, harvesting can also be done with vibro-shakers or straddle-harvesting machines. Ideally fruit will be harvested and taken to the oil mill for processing within 24 hours for freshness.

From Field to Facilities

Exceptional extra virgin olive oil, such as Isola Imports My Brother's Olive Oil, can be produced perfectly at the oil mill provided good quality, freshly harvested, raw material (olives) at the right stage of ripeness is available.

The primary stars of My Brother's Olive Oil are the coratina and ogliarola salentina olives produced in the Apulia region. Swift and proper handling between field and facilities make all the difference in bringing out the desired taste profile; fruity and grassy notes with a mild aftertaste of almond and artichoke. The oil will start out sweet and grow into a delightfully balanced bitterness and spiciness.

The following list contains the proper procedures as laid out by UNAPROL to obtain high quality oil possessing the desired organoleptic properties.

  • Olive storage at the olive mill
  • Deleafing and cleaning the olives
  • Olive milling and crushing
  • Olive paste kneading
  • Separation of oil from the other phases of the olive paste
  • Bulk storage of virgin olive oil

Then comes bottling and distribution across the world! Pictured in the video below is a special peak at the Isola Imports My Brother's Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1 Liter bottling process.