Olive Oil Cultivars: A Primer
Just as there are many varieties of apples and tomatoes and wine grapes, there are different kinds of olive trees—over 2,000 catalogued olive cultivars in the world. Some are so similar it would take an expert (or even DNA sequencing in a lab) to tell them apart. Others are incredibly different. They grow in disparate climates, look completely different and their olives vary in size, oil content, taste, ripening time and chemical characteristics.
Just like grape varieties express certain flavors in wine, olive cultivars create specific tastes and characteristics in extra virgin olive oils. And as with wine, the variety of olive is just one of many factors determining the quality and personality of an olive oil. Drinking a Chardonnay from Burgundy is most likely going to be a vastly different experience from sipping a California Chard, which will again taste nothing like a South African or Argentinean Chardonnay. Producing extra-virgin olive oil is a time-honored craft that relies on myriad elements, including the climate, culture and history; irrigation and drainage where the olive trees grow; the health and ripeness of the olives; the oil extraction system; and the maturity of fruit and the method of harvesting [How Gaea is Made] and the type or cultivar of olive. All of these influence the final product. Still, superior olive oil must always begin with highest quality olives.