Many beloved Italian dishes incorporate olives in one form or another. Whether they're in pasta dishes, tapenades, salads, antipasti, or pressed into oil, it's indisputable that they are one of the primary staples of Italian cuisine.
It's been many centuries since Italy was blessed with the gift of olive trees; some historians say the Greeks brought them around 800 BC, or perhaps a bit later, but in any case, there's been plenty of time for the olive to become one of the most essential and iconic fruits of the region.
In the best conditions, these beautiful trees can grow to be over 1000 years old, and indeed, there are quite a few such gnarled, ancient giants in Italy today! From lovely, buttery Castelvetrano olives to flavorful, intense Sicilian oil-cured black olives, robust, fruity extra virgin olive oil to spicy, herbaceous EVOO, we love all Italian olives, and we love to spread the love.
Besides being the fruit of impressively long-lived trees, olives are also incredibly versatile, providing countless flavor profiles, textures, and ways to enjoy. However, most of the olives grown in Italy are pressed into olive oil. Indeed, Italy is still one of the world's largest producers of olive oil! Different types of olives (somewhere between 400 and 500 varieties in Italy alone) are suitable for different types of preparation and lend their unique characteristics to each traditional way of preparing them.
If you're looking to enjoy some Italian olive oil in the US, at the very least, go for something that says 'Extra Virgin Olive Oil.' Even if it says 'produced in Italy' on the label, you don't want to go for 'light olive oil' because that will most likely be a low-quality, refined oil, perhaps with a small amount of good olive oil mixed in. Extra virgin olive oil, or EVOO, means that the product is low acidity, pure olive oil that hasn't been heated or harmed in the extraction process, and no additives have been thrown in. Check the date it was packaged, too! Olive oil is not like wine and does not improve with age. A general rule is that you should use olive oil within two years of the date packaged, although within one year would be even better, and the same usually goes for liquid-packed olives.