Olive trees derive from The Oleastro, which is a species of wild olive tree, its early findings can be dated back tens of thousands of years ago. According to Greek mythology goddess Athena was the one who planted the first olive tree and its fruit was given to all men as wonderful juice. For the Greeks, the olive tree was considered a sacred plant (a symbol of strength, faith, peace). In addition, the historian Herodotus believed that olive trees existed only in Athens.
The first cultivation of olive trees in Puglia dates back to the Neolithic period (5000 BC), proving that the olives have always played a pivotal role in the economy and culture of this region. Ancient coins depicting leaves and olive branches as well as the process of the olive harvest have been found in Puglia during archaeological excavations. Romans too as the Greeks, had learned to make full use of olive oil for body care: men, women, sick and healthy people, all used to use the oil several times a day.
They used to smear it on the body before and after bathing, as a cleaning agent and as an ointment, enriched with perfumes made from flowers and plants. Particularly athlets used to smear it over their body to improve blood pressure and muscle development. The oil was also used to power lamps and lanterns.
Today olive oil is often referred to as being the liquid gold, it is in fact largely used in the Puglian cuisine and thanks to its nutritional values to enhance skin quality and reducing the effects of ageing, it is also used to produce cosmetics. With more than 60 millions olive trees and over 240,000 farms operating ithe sector, Puglia is today the main producer of olive oil in Italy (40% of total production in Italy).
The olive oil is definitely the greatest economic resource for the region, this industy is in fact one of the oldest one in Puglia and it counts for more than 30% of the entire agriculture income. Three different qualities of olive oil are usually produced: clear, virgin and extra virgin. All olive oil produced here in Puglia is extra virgin olive oil, meaning it has less than 1% of acidity per 100g, this is considered to be the best option.
It is the real base of the Puglian cuisine, the first and last ingredient that goes into almost every dish. Apart from being used in traditional cooking ways such as dressing salads, grilling fish and meats, base of any sauces, it is also very common to see on a Puglian table a bowl of raw olive oil with a basket of local bread for dipping into this liquid gold.
Olive oil is definitely a tradition that inspires pride and is part of any Puglian soul. To better appreciate the Puglian olive oil, learn about its local history and ancient methods of production, today tourists can travel along the new instituted Strade dell’olio, the Olive Oil Roads. These are paths connecting ancient farms that still produce olive oil today, some of them still use traditional methods, some have turned into larger scale production. Some have been turned into museums with proper guided tours. In most of these farms it is possible to taste all different qualities of olive oil and also purchase it.