No kitchen or table in Puglia is without it. Olive oil is more than a staple, it is essential, it is the sine qua non of Puglia. The Pugliesi boast that there is at least one olive tree for every man, woman, and child in Italy. That's about 60 million trees.
A drive along Puglia's strada dell'olio*, designated agri-tourism routes dedicated to olive oil production, will cut through endless fields of olive trees. These gnarled, silver-green giants grow thickly in groves that have been harvested for centuries, their heavy roots embedded deep in the fiery red soil. Their broad trunks stand like creatures from a fairytale, and are so knotted and twisted that it is easy to imagine them as keepers of secret histories and local lore.
Their fruits are prized in this region. The unctuous, goldish-green liquid that flows from these trees have sustained communities since they were first settled. Most people don't know that Puglia produces most of Italy's olive oil. Sadly it gets transported further north and mixed with other varieties and then labeled as real "Tuscan" EVOO. However, nothing compares to the pure, unrefined oils that are produced and sold at a small scale by local farmers. The cloudy color and slightly bitter yet buttery taste are appealing to the palate and add essential flavors to the local cuisine. Pugliese olive oil is striking olive oil. It drips thickly and slowly onto your plate and the grassy bouquet connects you to the hard, rocky soil it came from.
There is much to say about the olive oil in Puglia- its history, its harvest, its heart-healthiness. EVOO will be a staple of this blog, and we will let you in on its secrets slowly, in the same way it should be savored. For now, know that the really good stuff isn't on super market shelves. It's handed to you directly by the farmer, in a glass jug free of any labels or expiration dates. Like an elixir faithfully bottled to maintain its magic, freshly pressed Pugliese olive oil is liquid gold in your mouth.
View Larger Map *In central Puglia, the Strada dell'Olio traverses the municipalities of Carovigno, Ceglie Messapica, Cisternino, Fasano, Ostuni, San Michele Salentino, San Vito dei Normanni, and Villa Castelli. Visitors can visit olive orchards, oil presses, mortars, masserie, and more.