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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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See more: Making Olive Oil

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.

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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.”

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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.

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“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.