Olives have been cultivated in Ligura since olive trees were first introduced to Italy by the Phoenicians and the Greeks, at least as far back as the 3rd century A.C. For thousands of years, the olive tree has been a strong part of the local economy and is a fundamental part of Ligurian cuisine, as well as other costal areas where olives are grown. Italy can actually be divided into two based on the presence of olives or not. In the North, animal fats like butter and lard are used in cooking, whereas in Southern Italy vegetable fats, like olive oil, dominate the kitchen. Beginning in the 18th century, olive cultivation in Ligura really began to grow. Archival documents from the 17th century show that a flourishing olive oil trade developed between the city of Oneglia, in the province of Imperia, and Milan. Information about the history, culture, traditions and symbolic value of the olive and olive oil can be found in the Olive Museum in Oneglia, along the Riviera Ligure di Ponente.
Riviera Ligure Extra Virgin Olive Oil DOP
There are three types of Riviera Ligure DOP extra virgin olive oil: Riviera dei Fiori, Riviera del Levante, and Riviera del Ponente Savonese. These names come from the area of production of the olives used to make the oil. The production area covers the entire region of Liguria and the olive groves must have certain characteristics laid out in the DOP guidelines. In general, the olives must be grown on terraced hills of varying slopes. The soil is composed of crumbling calcareous rock. The soil composition varies from place to place and is particularly fine in the higher areas where there is more clay or sand, depending on whether the area is inland or costal. The olives must be grown according to traditional methods, including the way the olive trees are planted, how they are cultivated and how they are pruned.
The olives are harvested by the end of January. To make Riviera dei Fiori oil, 90% of the olives must be of the Taggiasca variety and the other 10% must come from other varieties present in the groves. In Riviera del Ponente Savonese oil, 60% of the olives used are Taggiasca and the other varieties can be no more than 40%. In Riviera di Levante oil, there are Lavagnina, Razzola and Pignola olives that together constitute 65%. The other varieties used should not exceed 35%.
The sensorial characteristics of the oils also vary based on area of production. Riviera dei Fiori is yellow with a fruity, almost sweet, aroma and flavor. Riviera del Ponente Savonese is yellow-green in color, has an intense fruity aroma and a fruity, yet decidedly sweet, flavor. Riviera di Levante is also yellow-green in color with a fruity aroma, but has a fruity flavor that varies from sweet to slightly spicy or bitter.
The light taste that doesn’t dominate when used with other foods makes Ligurian olive oil a great addition to many dishes, including typical Ligurian specialties made with vegetables and fish. It can also be used with meat or salads or even desserts.