`An Olive Grove in Malta - Olive Oil Times

An Olive Grove in Malta

By Luciana Squadrilli
Dec. 28, 2013 09:46 UTC
Godfrey Bezzina (left), direc­tor of BSS Ltd., explains the process to Maltese Minister for Agriculture, Roderick Galdes

The small Mediterranean coun­try is a per­fect hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion, but on its land also grow fruit­ful olive trees.

Set in the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and Northern Africa, the island of Malta — actu­ally an arch­i­pel­ago made of three larger inhab­ited islands, Malta, Gozo and Comino, and many smaller islands — is a pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tion with its warm cli­mate, sandy beaches and his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ments.

But Malta, whose civ­i­liza­tions’ ori­gins date back to the Stone Age, is also a fer­tile ground for vine­yards and olive groves.

Olive grow­ing was intro­duced to the Maltese Islands in ancient times: some olive trees found here date back to more than 1,000 years ago. The sub­trop­i­cal Mediterranean cli­mate and the alka­line soil are both ideal for olive cul­ti­va­tion, which once flour­ished on these islands under the Phoenicians and the Romans, as many of the local place names still wit­ness. Later on, it was replaced first with cot­ton pro­duc­tion by the Arabs, then with sheep breed­ing by the British rulers and at last with orange and almond trees as many inhab­i­tants aban­doned farm­ing for more prof­itable tourism busi­nesses.

Recently, though, local farm­ers and entre­pre­neurs decided to revive the ancient Maltese olive grow­ing tra­di­tion and the pecu­liar local vari­ety called bidni — a word mean­ing hunch­back” because of the shape of its stone — that used to be very com­mon.

Today MEPA (Malta Environment & Planning Authority) is help­ing to sup­port com­mu­ni­ties based on olive trees through the des­ig­na­tion of Special Areas of Conservation: Olive groves are pro­tected by national leg­is­la­tion and per­mits are required to prune, fell or uproot such trees.

In recent years there has been an increased and renewed inter­est, by both the farm­ing com­mu­nity and a sec­tor of the Maltese pop­u­la­tion in the cul­ti­va­tion of olive trees and olive press­ing, with thou­sands of olive trees being planted every suc­ces­sive year,” said Denis Bezzina of BSS Ltd. Agricultural Supplies. Naturally, now these trees are matur­ing and bear­ing fruit, and nowa­days around 28 tons of olive oil are being pressed every year, between the 9 reg­is­tered olive mills in Malta.”

BSS is a fam­ily-owned com­pany which was estab­lished 17 years ago to sup­ply agri­cul­tural prod­ucts to the farm­ing com­mu­nity in Malta. Now the com­pany also imports and dis­trib­utes thou­sands of olive trees on a yearly basis, and the name of the vil­lage where its main out­let stands, Żebbug (mean­ing olive”” seems to have been pre­dic­tive.

In 2002 BSS invested in a small tra­di­tional olive press with a capac­ity of just 200 kilos (about 440 pounds) of olives per hour. This was the sec­ond press imported in Malta,” Mr. Bezzina explains, with the first press hav­ing a capac­ity of merely 80 kilos (about 176 pounds) of olives per hour. At that time, these two machines were enough to cater for the local demand for olive press­ing.”

Since the sec­tor has grown expo­nen­tially in just a few years, and is expected to con­tinue grow­ing at this rate at least for some more years to come, more olive presses had to be estab­lished over the island. At BSS they decided to improve their equip­ment and invest in a larger mill by pur­chas­ing an olive press from Pieralisi with a pro­cess­ing capa­bil­ity of 1,500 kilos (about 3,307 pounds) per batch.

The new facil­ity was inau­gu­rated on the 15th October 2013 by the Maltese Minister for Agriculture, Roderick Galdes and the direc­tor gen­eral of BSS, Godfrey Bezzina. Following the inau­gu­ra­tion, guests and jour­nal­ists could taste the com­pa­ny’s fresh oil and other tra­di­tional Maltese foods pre­pared using the same oil.

Clearly, the size of our islands does not per­mit that we com­pete with much larger olive oil pro­duc­ing coun­tries, when it comes to quan­ti­ties,” Denis Bezzina admit­ted. However we can humbly, but con­fi­dently, state that given our geo­graphic loca­tion and the local cli­mate, cou­pled with good soil con­di­tions, our pro­duce is of a very high qual­ity and has a unique taste.”


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