As you come in to land at Bari or Brindisi airports, take a good look out of the window. It is unlikely that you will ever see as many olives trees in one place ever again!
Puglia is famous for many things: trulli, orecchiette pasta, glorious sandy beaches and the pizzica to name a few, but nothing is quite as Puglia-defining as the 50 to 60 million olive trees (no one seems to know for sure how many) that carpet the region, from the north to the south.
The sheer number of trees is amazing, but so, in many cases, are their size and age. Called ulivi secolari (literally centuries-old olive trees), you will come across large numbers of ancient trees with knotted, gnarled, robust trunks that have been twisted into grotesque shapes by a mix of time, wind, sun and man’s hand. They give an impression of wizened sagacity, seen-it-all tiredness and a patient acceptance of the immutability of time.
A few years ago these monumental olive trees were the object of an illicit trade whereby wealthy northern Italians, in a quest to add age and prestige to their gardens, paid enormous sums of money to shady olive tree rustlers. Local Puglian farmers would wake up to find their prized trees had been dug up during the night taken away in what the local press termed the olive tree emigration. Strict laws were created to prevent such practices and now Puglia’s olive tree patrimony is closely safeguarded.
...Nothing is quite as Puglia-defining as the 50 to 60 million olive trees...
Of course, all these olive trees are not merely ornamental: Puglia produces around 40% of Italy's olive oil and has 4 Denomination of Origin of Production areas (Collina di Brindisi DOP, Dauno DOP, Terra D’Otranto DOP and Terra di Bari DOP) recognised by the European Union to protect the unique qualities and characteristics of each terroir. A great many varieties of olive are grown, the most common being Ogliarola, Cellina di Nardò, Coratina, Frantoio, Leccino, Peranzana, Garganica, Rotondella, Cima di Bitonto and Cima di Mola.
After more than 2,700 years, the relationship between the locals and their olive trees is stronger than ever. Indeed, Puglia without olive trees is unthinkable: not only would the region’s cuisine and economy suffer terribly, but, most importantly, the landscape would be unrecognizable...
Find out about Puglia's ancient underground olive presses >>