Located in the heel of the boot, Puglia is a gorgeous region in southern Italy. It's famous for making products such as wine, tarallucci, sweet and savory pastries, horse meat stewed in tomatoes, and one of our favorites, orecchiette.
Puglia also happens to be the largest producer of olive oil in Italy. Let's talk more about the region's favorite cooking fat.
History of Puglia
Puglia is a southern region of Italy and happens to be one of the oldest in the country. The entire region is a narrow peninsula so has hundreds of kilometers of coastline along both the Adriatic and Ionian sea. You can drive from one coast to the other fairly quickly making it a very unique place.
Puglia is also known as the Apulian board (Tavoliere delle Puglie) because its mostly flat. The Southern part of the region is called Salento, which happens to be part of Magna Grecia, meaning ‘Greater Greece’.
What is Magna Grecia?
Magna Grecia is the name of the coastal areas in the southern Italian regions of Sicily, Calabria, Campania, Basilicata, and Puglia. The Romans gave these areas the name because they were so densely populated by the Greeks.
During the 8th century B.C. the Greeks, in search of a new life and commercial opportunities, began colonizing southern Italy. They brought with them their language, customs, and religion. They established cities, many of which still exist today.
Cultivars from Puglia
There are over 1,000 cultivars of olives in the world, with Italy being home to over 650, making the country the most biodiverse place on the planet when it comes to the fruit.
Commonly found cultivars in Puglia include:
- Cellina di Nardo
- Bella di Ceragniola
- Grande di Spagna
- Cima di Mola, Cima di Melfi
- Ogliarola Salentina
- Ogliarola Barese
- Oliva Rossa
These are only some of the most popular. Many cities and towns have micro climates which allow specific cultivars to grow well within those places.
Why are the Olive Trees in Puglia Dying?
Millions of olive trees in the region of Puglia are dying due to a plant bacteria called Xyella Fastidiosa. According to records, so far over 21,000,000 trees have died due to the bacteria. This has thrown the oil industry into quite a fluster because Puglia is the largest domestic producer of olive oil in Italy.
What is Xyllela?
Xylella Fastidiosa is a plant bacteria spread by insects that act as the carrier. Similar to malaria, an infected insect is the carrier and in turn infects a human.
What’s the Deal with this Bug?
The insect responsible for spreading Xyllela is called a spittlebug or froghopper. In Italian the insect is called a sputacchina.
Spittlebugs live and feed on a variety of different plants. Unfortunately, they really love eating olive trees. They feed on an infected tree, become a carrier for the bacteria, and then fly or crawl over to a healthy tree and infect that plant with the bacteria. That tree then slowly begins to wither away.
Can We Get Rid of the Bug that Causes Xyllela?
Usually, spittlebugs are just like any other garden pest. Slightly annoying and you try to avoid them but if they show up it’s not the end of the world. The issue isn’t really the spittlebug itself. After all, they have been living in Italy long before Xylella was detected within the country so we can’t just get rid of them.
The issue is the bacteria and the spittlebug together.
What Does Xylella do to Olive Trees?
Is there a Solution for Xylella?
Researchers found several cultivars of olive trees, including Leccino, that are very resistant to Xylella. This is amazing news!! However, this could be the start of a slippery slope for the industry for a few reasons:
- If olive farmers only plant a handful of different trees the industry can become oversaturated
- Olive oil can become homogenous and boring : (
- Super native cultivars disappear
- We lose biodiversity which isn’t really great for pollination Italy is home to over 650 cultivars of olives, making it the most biodiverse place in the world when it comes to the old fruit.
Farmers, researchers, biologists, agronomists, and chemists that work behind the scenes in this industry have their work cut out for them.
What Does the Future of Olive Oil Look Like?
To be honest we aren’t quite sure. Whenever we drive through Salento it breaks our hearts to see all of the dead olive trees. People haven’t just lost their groves, but a piece of their heritage. Property and campagna (countryside) in southern Italy is often seen as a birthright.
People own groves and property for the joy of gardening and feeding their families in addition to making a living. An olive tree planted by a farmer’s grandfather or great-grandfather feels like a portal to the past. A living thing that was there before the oldest of us and will be there long after us. But now that after part feels a little shaky.
However, many farmers are replanting and have been replanting their groves continuously which means as the production in Puglia wanes it should lift back up in time. For now, we are safe in Calabria (knock on wood) and appreciate the time we get to spend with our trees.
You might also like...