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Olive Oils From Sardinia Find a Modern Audience

Sardinian olive oil has long been a staple of Italian cuisine and culinary prowess. The combination of international awards and oleoturism is putting the Mediterranean island in the spotlight.

Sep. 16, 2019
By Matthew Cortina

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Olive oil from Sar­dinia is hav­ing a moment.

Sev­eral pro­duc­ers from the sec­ond largest island in the Mediter­ranean took home a hand­ful of awards at this year’s NYIOOC World Olive Oil Com­pe­ti­tion.

At the same time, restau­rants and importers from around the world are shar­ing Sar­din­ian olive oil with curi­ous con­sumers and agri-tourism to the island’s olive farms has sky­rock­eted.

The pro­duc­tion of olive oil in Sar­dinia is grow­ing in quan­tity and in qual­ity.- Antonello Fois, an award-win­ning pro­ducer at Accad­e­mia Olearia

But the story of olive oil in Sar­dinia is cen­turies old, mil­len­nia even.

Pasquale Manca, a fourth-gen­er­a­tion olive grower at San Giu­liano Alghero, said the pro­duc­tion of olive oil on the island dates back to the sev­enth cen­tury BCE. Var­i­ous gov­ern­ing groups, from the Romans to the Pisans and the Aragons, over­saw thou­sands of acres of wild olive trees.

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In the 16th cen­tury, the Aragons man­dated that landown­ers plant 10 new olive trees each year, install mills on prop­er­ties with more than 500 olive trees and sent experts from Spain to Sar­dinia in order to teach the locals how to pro­duce bet­ter olive oil.

How­ever, all that his­tory was largely a secret, kept by res­i­dents of the island and the Ital­ian main­land, Manca said. That is, until now.

The sales of olive oil were directed pri­mar­ily to the Ital­ian main­land for many years, and only fairly recently the Sar­din­ian pro­duc­ers have started to ship their oils out­side the coun­try,” Manca said.

Manca and San Giu­liano won two Gold awards at the 2019 NYIOOC for the San Guil­iano Frut­tato and San Giu­liano L’Orginale. He said even though world­wide acclaim is new, the qual­ity of the island’s olive oil was steeped through­out his­tory.

Sar­din­ian olive oil is very renowned in Italy for its herbal and arti­choke sen­sa­tions,” Manca said. In the last 20 years, along with Sicily, Sar­dinia has won most of the com­pe­ti­tions in Italy and abroad for the very high qual­ity of its oils.”

Manca added that Sar­dinia is one of only five blue zones in the world – an area where peo­ple have been found to live longer – and the fact that its olive oil helps to pro­duce an intact and unpol­luted envi­ron­ment is a con­tribut­ing fac­tor.

Other pro­duc­ers on the island are sim­i­larly proud of Sardinia’s her­itage and excited to share the prod­uct with the world.

Antonello Fois, of Accad­e­mia Olearia (whose Ris­erva del Pro­dut­tore won Gold at the 2019 NYIOCC), said the old­est olive tree on the company’s farms in Sar­dinia is 4,000 years old. Despite its estab­lished pro­duc­tion areas, more groves are being cul­ti­vated every year because olive trees flour­ish on the island, Fois said.

The pro­duc­tion of olive oil in Sar­dinia is grow­ing in quan­tity and in qual­ity,” he said. Sar­din­ian oil is very fruity and rich in polyphe­nols. For this rea­son, it is very good for your health.”

Accad­e­mia Olearia takes spe­cial care to ensure the qual­ity of its olives results in high-qual­ity olive oil. Olives are pressed within 12 hours of being picked in their recently updated facil­i­ties. The olives are processed at pre­cisely 77 degrees Fahren­heit and then fil­tered and stocked in silos at a cool 59 degrees.

Domenico, Pasquale and Francesca Manca

Manca also cred­ited the pro­duc­tion facil­i­ties at San Giu­liano for the qual­ity of the company’s olive oils. It is one of the biggest pro­duc­ers of organic extra vir­gin olive oil in the coun­try, and a state-of-the-art mill built around them along with a trace­abil­ity sys­tem in place allows Manca and his fel­low pro­duc­ers to ensure qual­ity in every step of the pro­duc­tion process.

Olives are grown in three loca­tions of Sar­dinia with dif­fer­ent cul­ti­vars in each, accord­ing to Fois. The Bosana cul­ti­var thrives in the north; Neri di Oliena in the east; Tonda di Cagliari in the south; and Semi­dana in the west. Each has a unique fla­vor pro­file and grow­ing habits, but there is one unique chal­lenge to cul­ti­vat­ing olives on the island: the wind.

The wind is cer­tainly the main chal­lenge in Sar­dinia, espe­cially the one that blows from the north­west called mis­tral,” Manca said, refer­ring to a strong, cold wind that blows off the coast of Provence, France, and affects tem­per­a­tures and the shape of olive trees. But besides this pecu­liar­ity… Sar­dinia offers an excep­tional spot to grow olive trees.”

Due to its unique char­ac­ter­is­tics, oleo­tourism in Sar­dinia is also tak­ing off. Some groups, such as Tast­ing Sar­dinia, offer olive oil-spe­cific tours around the island. Both Manca and Fois said they have expe­ri­enced an uptick of vis­i­tors in recent years.

Olive oil mill on Sar­dinia.

Every year we have more and more vis­i­tors who come to visit our pro­duc­tion plant,” Fois said. We are very proud of this as it means we are becom­ing increas­ingly more well known on a national and inter­na­tional level.”

Manca said this boost in tourism, aided by the island’s olive oil acco­lades, is crit­i­cal to the future of Sar­dinia.

Sar­dinia is a big island but with a very low den­sity per square kilo­me­ter in terms of pop­u­la­tion,” he said. There­fore its econ­omy relies on the many tourists that come on vaca­tion to spread the word about the unique­ness of this fan­tas­tic island, both in terms of beauty and of food tra­di­tion.”

Food estab­lish­ments around the world, and recently in the United States, are pro­mot­ing Sar­din­ian olive oil by keep­ing shelf space for it and high­light­ing it on restau­rant menus. So, the only thing left to do is try more Sar­din­ian olive oil or bet­ter yet, visit the island.


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