Cradle of the Mediterrean civilization, Sicily has always represented a fertile ground for the cultivation of many varieties of trees and shrubs, ranging from olive trees to citrus fruits to wheat. Think for example that in the Roman Era Sicily was considered the Granary of Italy
Along wheat and cereals, which represent the prevalent culture at day in Sicily if we take as parameter the occupied hectars, more profitable cultivations have meanwhile developed, such as citrus, olives, vineyards and fruit trees.
Sicily can now be defined as one of the biggest producer of high quality extra virgin olive oil in the world. The allure and respect for the olive tree derives from the Greek influence on the island. We shall remember, as a matter of fact, that the Greeks adored the olive tree, since it was considered a symbol of peace and fraternity, but also of resistance and purification. The Olympic games’ champions were even awarded with crowns made from the branches of the olive trees of Olympia, consecrated to Zeus. This way, the tiara symbolized peace, glory and sacrality.
The richness of the vast natural heritage of Sicily has created a huge biodiversity. From the sea to the mountains, passing through the hills, every area is distinguished by micro-climatic conditions and different ground composition, which are fundamental characteristics for the growth of an olive tree variety. This biodiversity and uniqueness of the Sicilian territory grants unique flavors and aromas, which result in extra virgin olive oils with extraordinary organoleptic characteristics.
While the olive varieties, “cultivar” in technical terms, identifiable in Sicily are more than 30, the researchers have continued analyzing other genotypes, which might enrich the panorama of olive cultivation in the near future. At the moment, the prevalent cultivar in Sicily are eight: Biancolilla, Cerasuola, Moresca, Nocellara del Belice, Nocellara Etnea, Oglialora Messinese, Santagatese, Tonda Iblea.
Le caratteristiche organolettiche, il gusto e il fruttato variano per intensità a seconda delle varietà, in quanto risultato del singolo microclima e del terreno in cui la cultivar cresce. Tuttavia, alcune sensazioni sono comuni a più cultivar siciliane come la mandorla, il pomodoro verde o maturo e il carciofo.
The organoleptic characteristics, the taste and the fruity can vary in intensity upon the variety, since they are the result of micro-climatic conditions and ground on which the cultivar grows. Nevertheless, some sensations are common to many Sicilian cultivars, such as almonds, green or ripe tomato and artichoke.
Let’s find out the olive varieties which characterize Sicilian oil:
Biancolilla: typical of the Palermo and Agrigento area, it’s characterized by a fruity aroma and a light or medium intensity, which makes it a delicate olive oil, with notes of almonds and sometimes tomato.
Cerasuola: a typical Western Sicily variety, which can be found in little extensions even in the Eastern Sicily. It is characterized by a medium or high intensity fruity, with prevalence of bitter and spicy notes, along with grass, cardoon and tomato.
Moresca: it’s an early ripening cultivar, widespread in the Eastern Sicily, which is harvested at the beginning of September and results in delicate oils, lightly fruity and not very intense, with grass, almonds and green apple notes.
Nocellara del Belice: widespread in the Trapani area, is named after the river flowing in this territory. It is characterized by a fruity, bitter and spicy aroma, with notes of cardoon or artichoke and sometimes tomato.
Nocellara Etnea: clear reference to the Etna Volcano, it is quite typical of the Eastern Sicily, between Enna, Catania, Siracusa and Ragusa. Its fruity is medium/intense with a good spicy and bitter sensation along with grass, artichoke and almond notes.
Ogliarola messinese: widespread in the Messina area, this cultivar can be found also in the Palermo territory. It produces oils with light bitterness and fruity, in which grass notes can be distinguished.
Santagatese: known with other synonims, it grows both in the Western and Eastern Sicily. The oil derived is characterized by a light or medium fruity, with light bitter and almond notes.
Tonda Iblea: Tipica dei Monti Iblei, da cui prende il nome, questa cultivar si ha solo tra le province di Messina, Catania e Siracusa. Produce oli con fruttato di medio-alta intensità con sensazioni di amaro e piccante. Si contraddistingue in particolar modo per le note erbacee e di foglia di pomodoro verde e talvolta anche di carciofo.
Tonda Iblea: typical of the Iblei Mountains, after which takes its name, this cultivar grows only in the territory of Messina, Catania and Siracusa. It produces an oil with medium-high intensity fruity characterized by bitterness and spicy sensations. It is mostly defined by notes of grass, green tomato leaves and sometimes even artichokes.