In Sciacca, Sicily, Bonolio Finds the Perfect Blend

Bonolio partners with more than five hundred small farmers who grow cultivars typical of long-standing Sicilian traditions.

Salvatore Bono
By Paolo DeAndreis
Jan. 26, 2022 12:30 UTC
Salvatore Bono

The suave smiles from the Opera dei Pupi, the famous Sicilian pup­pet the­atre, wel­come vis­i­tors to the lands of Bonolio, a major Italian olive oil pro­ducer in Sciacca, a land dot­ted by olive orchards on the south­west­ern coast of Sicily.

Sciacca is home to ancient olive cul­ti­vars and a cen­turies-old olive oil cul­ture, which has been renewed with a con­nec­tion to these lands and the way olives are grown.

We are four broth­ers with the back­ground of a very spe­cial fam­ily expe­ri­ence, which allows us to nur­ture the rela­tion­ship with the Sciacca farm­ers.- Salvatore Bono, Bonolio

On the labels of Bonolio, the char­ac­ters of the Opera dei Pupi — deemed an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO — reveal the iden­tity of the oil on which they appear. There is a dif­fer­ent Paladin for each prod­uct, designed by the local artist Alice Valenti with the goal of com­bin­ing pop­u­lar and olive oil cul­tures.


We have asso­ci­ated the olive oil whose char­ac­ter­is­tics match the iden­tity of the Paladin,” noted Salvatore Bono, co-owner of Bonolio. For instance, our Val di Mazara EVOO is now dis­tin­guished by Regina Galerana, one of Charlemagne’s wives, known for her bal­ance and wise­ness, which also por­trays our EVOO’s iden­tity.”

The artist, Bono added, did not only use the Paladin’s his­toric pro­file but also re-imag­ined it with mod­ern graph­ics, which also nar­rates our quest for inno­va­tion, which is part of our work and one of the dri­vers of EVOO qual­ity. That her­itage allowed us to her­ald our idea of a mod­ern Sicily, col­or­ful and joy­ful.”

The largest olive oil pro­ducer in Sicily is a com­pany that began decades ago to export to the U.S. and to pro­mote olive oil cul­ture around the world. There is still so much igno­rance about olive oil — the way it is made, where it comes from, the cer­ti­fi­ca­tions,” Bono told Olive Oil Times.

Bono’s com­pany has long focused on olive oil pro­duc­tion by bond­ing with gen­er­a­tions of small farm­ers, giv­ing birth to a unique con­nec­tion with the ter­ri­tory. In the Sciacca area, said Bono, 60 per­cent of all Sicilian olive oil is pro­duced.

It all started from my grand­fa­ther back in 1934, a food sales­man, who founded the first fam­ily agribusi­ness. Then came my dad, who focused exclu­sively on olive oil. Today we are four broth­ers with the back­ground of a very spe­cial fam­ily expe­ri­ence, which allows us to nur­ture the rela­tion­ship with the Sciacca farm­ers,” said Bono.

Still, Bono believes that the main dri­ver of qual­ity is the loca­tion. We pro­duce our Bono blend in a spe­cial place, which is part of an island whose own name, Sicily, stands for the excel­lent qual­ity of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts. While lab analy­sis and panel tests are cru­cial for ver­i­fy­ing the qual­ity of our EVOOs, olive oil from this ter­ri­tory is blessed by nat­ural excel­lence,” Bono said.


Bonolio part­ners today include more than five hun­dred small farm­ers who grow cul­ti­vars typ­i­cal of a long-stand­ing Sicilian tra­di­tion, such as Cerasuola.

Cerasuola is believed to be one of the most ancient olive trees grown on the island, a vari­ety that offers a strong yield and is con­sid­ered resilient to sum­mer heat and drought. It needs pol­li­na­tion, one of the rea­sons it is often grown with other tra­di­tional cul­ti­vars such as Biancolilla and Nocellara del Belice.

Those three olive vari­eties are gath­ered by Bonolio for its Bono brand, a blend sold in con­ven­tional and organic edi­tions.

This is true Sicilian and Italian olive oil — one hun­dred per­cent Italian — not only because it comes from this land, but also because all of our farm­ers are cer­ti­fied for the Val di Mazara PDO,” noted Bono, refer­ring to the Protected Designation of Origin, the E.U. pro­to­col of rules and pro­ce­dures to cer­tify the true con­nec­tion of a high-qual­ity food prod­uct to a spe­cific ter­ri­tory.

Bono earned Gold Awards for its organic and con­ven­tional Val di Mazara PDO brands at the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition,

Other Bonolio brands are ver­i­fied under IGP Sicilia,” the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) awarded to prod­ucts with a close con­nec­tion to their ter­ri­tory of ori­gin. According to Bono, his com­pany pro­duces about 90 per­cent of all Val di Mazara PDO olive oils and about 25 per­cent of IGP Sicilia olive oils.

Certifications, added Bono, are cru­cial to fos­ter high qual­ity, respect the con­sumer and allow hun­dreds of ded­i­cated farm­ers to pros­per.


In Europe, PDO and PGI cer­ti­fied prod­ucts are rec­og­nized by the 27-mem­bers block. That does not hap­pen in the United States,” Bono explained. The ori­gin of many prod­ucts exported there is declared by the pro­ducer but it is not cer­ti­fied.”

Bono warned whole­sale buy­ers to think twice before com­mit­ting to Tuscan or Sicilian olive oil that is not cer­ti­fied. Those that are cer­ti­fied get that title from a third-party entity rec­og­nized by the Ministry of Agriculture. That third party will check trace­abil­ity, ori­gin, means of pro­duc­tion, lab analy­sis and panel test results.” Bonolio has an inter­nal taste panel to direct the dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties of milled olive oils to their proper chan­nels.


The United States has long been the most impor­tant mar­ket for the Sicilian pro­ducer. The large food retail­ing mar­ket there is very chal­leng­ing,” noted Bono. We are for­tu­nate because Sicilian olive oil is not very aggres­sive nor bit­ter, it is a mild fruity prod­uct, slightly piquant — char­ac­ter­is­tics which make it very eas­ily appre­ci­ated by the American con­sumer.”

The biggest chal­lenge for exporters such as Bonolio is to prop­a­gate olive oil edu­ca­tion together with their prod­ucts. Even spe­cial­ized food retail­ers buy­ers might some­times find it dif­fi­cult to sort the good from the bad and choose the best among a chaotic offer of thou­sands of prod­ucts. On our side, we hope that our approach, which is to sell only cer­ti­fied prod­ucts, might shed some light on such a conun­drum.”

In the last five years, Bonolio has expanded its own olive farm­ing beyond tra­di­tional groves. We now can count on about 135 hectares of olive orchards. Twenty are ded­i­cated to tra­di­tional olive grow­ing while 115 are super-inten­sive orchards near the city of Trapani.” Bono told us. The goal is to pro­duce a good qual­ity of olive oil at sus­tain­able costs so as to be able to offer con­sumers a qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil at an afford­able price.”

Bonolio has around 260,000 trees, 60,000 of which are tra­di­tion­ally grown. Super-inten­sive orchards are based on those cul­ti­vars, such as Arbequina and Arbosana, which are more suited to this end,” noted Bono.

The com­pany is plan­ning an expan­sion of its inten­sive olive farm­ing. In that case, we will have about 280 trees per hectare as opposed to the 1,600 in the super-inten­sive orchards,” noted Bono while glanc­ing at Regina Galerana on the com­pa­ny’s PDO bot­tle. Yes, she is smil­ing back at him.

Share this article


Related Articles