The olive cultivation in Liguria: on our tables since the dawn of time

Eat & Drink

Two thousand years of history. This is the starting point to understand olive cultivation in Liguria. Not just an agricultural matter, but a lifestyle, a vision of the world, a philosophy.

The wild olive, the olivastro, is part of the Mediterranean vegetation. The Ligurian people, a tribal population before the Romans, learned about oil thanks to the Etruscans and the Greek settlers of Southern Italy, Marseilles and Nice. Roman colonisation, starting 2200 years ago, promoted the first forms of olive cultivation in Liguria: there are Roman olive farms in Varignano, near La Spezia, while other studies are revealing olive milling activities that took place in the territory of Finale, 2000 years ago.

Olive cultivation continued after the fall of the Roman Empire undergoing a renewal. Over time the best species available on the territory were selected and grafted on wild olive trees. The cultivars were born. Liguria has more than ten, even if the Taggiasca of the Province of Imperia and her cousin Lavagnina in Levante are dominant.

Monastic orders, administrators of large territories and landowners can be protagonists of this renewal. However, olive growing was marginal, along with other dominant crops: vines, fruit, legumes, cereals. When Genoa controlled most of Liguria, it needed olive oil and promoted the production in the Riviera at Ponente and Levante (West and East). Besides, climatic conditions, colder between year 1350 and the 19th century, favoured olive cultivation in Liguria.

For 600 years as of today, hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of dry stone walls were built for the terracing necessary to plant the olive trees. Oil was used for lighting, food, food preservation, lubrication, cosmetics, and medicine, as well as for wool processing. For this reason, the oil of Liguria is exported to Tuscany and Northern Europe. Processing residues are used to produce soap and for heating.

Water and animal power mills were created, great Ligurian companies become leaders and have been sending their products all over the world for 200 years. Recent history tells us that extra virgin olive oil is a pillar of the gastronomic culture of the Mediterranean.

It is produced by extracting it mechanically from a fruit and, mind, not from a seed using chemical means. Olive oil is good for us and it tastes good if processed timely and correctly. The new challenge is to integrate it into international cuisine.

Seeing is believing, or better, tasting is believing.

[Alessandro Giacobbe]