Italy's Best Extra Virgin Olive Oils: 4 Regions to Discover


Italy's Best Extra Virgin Olive Oils: 4 Regions to Discover

15 November 2018

Olive oil is the liquid gold of Italy, and some of the very best comes from Tuscany, Liguria, and Lake Garda

The twisted trunks of ancient olive trees have grown alongside rows of vineyards for centuries in Italy. Olive oil is as indispensable to Italian cuisine as wine. Which is like wine, the best extra virgin olive oils comes from our favourite boot. Also like wine, olive oils are made with different cultivars, creating a rich variety of flavours and aromas whose tastes are only enhanced when paired with regional cuisine. Olive oil production spans from Italy’s southernmost points in Sicily and Puglia to as far north as Trento. Exquisite, high quality, extra virgin olive oils can be found in all regions. But the four we’ve picked are types that any olive oil aficionado or foodie should add to their tasting repertoire.

If you like strong flavours: Tuscany

fresh-olive-oil Fresh olive oil. Photo by Stezano

Of all the olive oils of Italy, Tuscany produces some of the best, most coveted, and the most easily available. It is not uncommon in Tuscany for a wine estate to also make olive oil, a dual production that has been practiced for centuries. Its flavour profile can vary greatly from those made along the Maremma coast to the higher wine hills of Montalcino. But, generally speaking, Tuscan olive oil is more on the pungent rather than the buttery side. Both of which are positive attributes, depending on taste preferences. Tuscan olive oil has a peppery taste that tickles the throat. This is a sign that it the oil is fresh from the press; as the olive oil matures, the sensation grows milder. When freshly poured from the frantoio, or olive press, Tuscan olive oil can be as brilliant green as springtime shoots. Three main varieties are used in Tuscany: Frantoio, which gives a fruity flavour and a kick from its high amount of polyphenols; Moraiolo, another highly-polyphenolic variety that lends spicy notes; and Leccino, a sweeter and smoother cultivar.

If you want a more delicate flavour (and love herbs): Liguria

Olive trees, Liguria. Photo ©?Roman Pfeiffer

Olive trees are planted in terraces along the Ligurian Riviera, where the Alps spill into the sea. The groves grow thick the deeper into the valley as welcome protection against long-ago pirates that used to harass these coastal towns.  Most Ligurian olive oil production is in Imperia. Here, olive trees share territory with wine production zones like Riviera Ligure di Ponente, Ormeasco di Pornassio, and Rossese di Dolceaqua. The olive oils of Liguria are delicate and mild because of the main cultivar: tiny Taggiasca olives. They are a deep purple-black olive, bursting with flavour, and are highly valued on aperitivo plates. Taggiasca olives are naturally lower in levels of free acids which can make an oil taste bitter. This means it is rare to find a Ligurian olive oil that is not Extra Virgin. Ligurian olive oil is more golden and less green in colour than Tuscany’s and has sweet almond or even marzipan notes, a sap-like freshness, and a woodsy warmth. It benefits from the same terroir that leads to the infamous green almond note in Vermentino wine.

If you’re searching for a rare gem: Lago di Garda

best extra virgin olive oils Olives from Lago di Garda, Veneto. Photo ©?Rasmus Zwickson

Even if you’re an olive oil appassionato, you may not have heard of extra virgin olive oil from Lake Garda. This is a rare find even in Italy. Lake Garda, Italy’s biggest lake, lies directly on the border between Veneto and Lombardy in the north of the country. Olive groves, lemon trees, and vineyards of Verdicchio (or Trebbiano di Lugana) for Lugana DOC grow in the unique setting of a mild Mediterranean climate and Alpine backdrop between mountains and lakes. The overall land area for growing these olives is relatively small, making it one of Italy’s rarest extra virgin olive oils. Extra virgin olive oil from Lake Garda has a delicate, elegant flavour profile, and a light to medium aroma with notes of fresh grass, aromatic herbs, hay, artichoke, and a unique almond aftertaste. It is an especially delicate olive oil as the principal olive cultivars are Casaliva, Frantoio, Leccino, and Pendolino.

If you want something in between: Lazio

Foodie guide to 3 of Italy's best extra virgin olive oils Olive grove, Lazio. Photo © Dimit®i

In the Agro Pontino Valley, nestled between the Apennines and the Mediterranean just to the south of Rome, olive groves are an ancient site. A key commodity from the time of the Etruscans, olive oil from this area has the pungent pepperiness of Tuscan oils, tempered by the delicate flavours of wild herbs that grow in their maritime location. At Casale del Giglio olive groves dot between the rows of vines and archeological sites. The cultivars are Sant’Agostino, Itrana, and Frantoio which become a custom blend of extra virgin olive oil. It has a complex profile, distinctive notes of herbaceous green almond, cardoon, and tomato leaf recall the unique terroir of this valley.
Fall is the perfect season for wine and olive oil tasting tours! The olives have just been harvested and the wines from the previous year are ready to be taken out of their casks. Let us design the perfect exploration of Italy's top wine and olive oil regions!