Over 750 million olive trees are cultivated worldwide, 95% of which are in the Mediterranean region. Most of global production comes from Southern Europe, North Africa and the Near East.
Of the European production, 93% comes from Spain, Italy and Greece. Spanish province of Jaén is well known for the biggest olive groves in the world.
Spain is the country with the highest number of olive trees (more than 300 million), and is nowadays the world’s leading olive and olive oil producer and exporter. Of the 2.1 million hectares (5.19 million acres) of olive groves, 92% are dedicated to olive oil production. The average annual production varies due to the cyclical nature of the harvest, but typically runs between 600,000 and 1,000,000 metric tons, only 20% of which is exported. About 80% of the crop is concentrated in Andalusia, (Jaén), the biggest olive growing area on the planet.
In Andalusia, the most important olive oil producing areas are in the province of Jaén, where the main olive type is Picual, and other authorised varieties include Verdala, Real, and Manzanilla de Jaén, and in the province of Córdoba, where the authorised DO olive varieties include Picuda (a.k.a. Carrasqueña de Córdoba), Picual, Lechín, Chorrío, Pajarero, and Hojiblanco. DO certified Andaluz olive oils tend to be full bodied and tasty; class “A” oils have a maximum acidity of 0.4%, while class “B” oils have up to 1% acidity.
Catalonia also produces olive oil, which tends to be on the lighter side. The principal cultivation and production areas are Les Garrigues, in the province of Lleida, and Siurana, very nearby, in the province of Tarragona, where the Arbequina variety is the main olive grown, but where other DO authorised varieties include Real [Royal], Verdiel and Morrut olives.
Italy is the second European producer; two-thirds of the production is represented by extra-virgin oil with 37 DOP (Protected Origin Appellation) widespread on all the national territory. In Italy there are about 6.180 olive oil mills and the overall amount of processed olives in 2006/2007 was about 3.500.000 t with a production of about 600.000 t of oil. 90% of the entire oil production comes from Southern Italian Regions: Sicily, Calabria and Puglia. The introduction of new mills has increased the productivity and has decreased the need for manpower, heightening the problem related to the disposal of olive mills’ wastes due to an increased production of wastes themselves. In Italy more than 2000 t/year of olive oil wastes are produced and half of them come from Puglia Region.
Greece devotes 60% of its cultivated land to olive growing. It is the world’s top producer of black olives and has more varieties of olives than any other country. Greece holds third place in world olive production with more than 132 million trees, which produce approximately 350,000 tons of olive oil annually, of which 82% is extra-virgin . About half of the annual Greek olive oil production is exported, but only some 5% of this reflects the origin of the bottled product.
Greece exports mainly to European Union (EU) countries, principally Italy, which receives about three-quarters of total exports. Olives are grown for oil in Greece, with Peloponnese being the source of 65% of Greek production, as well as in Crete, the Aegean Islands and Ionian Islands.
The most prized Greek olive variety for oil production is the Koroneiki, originating from the area of Korone in Messenia, Peloponnese. This variety grows well on mountain slopes and produces very small fruit; the high ratio of skin to flesh giving the oil its coveted aromatic qualities.
The variety is also suited to the production of agourelaio, oil from olives that are slightly unripe. When crushed in presses that are not capable of grinding the stone, this oil is entirely free of acidity and possesses top-tier organoleptic characteristics. Because not crushing the stones reduces oil yield, production of agourélaio is limited to “boutique” presses run by entrepreneurs and small cooperatives.
Among the many different olive varieties or cultivars in Italy are Frantoio, Leccino Pendolino, and Moraiolo; in Spain the most important varieties are the Picual, Alberquina, Hojiblanca, and Manzanilla de Jaén; in Greece, Koroneiki; in France, Picholine; in California, Mission; in Portugal, Galega; in Croatia, Oblica and Leccino. The oil from the varieties varies in flavour and stability (shelf life).
Australia now produces some of the world’s finest olive oils, primarily due to the remarkably good growing conditions, rich soils and lack of traditional pests and diseases. Many Australian producers only make premium oils, whilst a number of corporate growers operate groves of a million trees or more and produce oils for the general market. Australian olive oil is exported to Asia and Europe where the consistent high quality is respected.
In North America, Italian and Spanish olive oils are the best-known, and top-quality extra-virgin oils from Italy, Spain, Croatia and Greece are sold at high prices, often in “prestige” packaging. A large part of US olive oil imports come from Italy, Spain, and Turkey. The US imported 47,800,000 US gallons (181,000 m3) of olive oil in 1998, of which 34,600,000 US gallons (131,000 m3) came from Italy.
The Republic of South Africa also produces extra virgin olive oil, with production increasing to meet demand. (From Wikipedia : Olive Oil)
International Olive Oil CouncilOlive Oil Production in the Mediterranean,