Dubbed “liquid gold” by Homer, olive oil has long been worshipped for its multitude of uses – medicinal, cosmetic, fuel – and, most importantly (at least for this article), cooking.
There is nothing more gorgeous than letting oil soak into a piece of soft, just-out-of-the-oven bread. Or drizzling it over fresh-caught fish.
Nowhere in the world is olive oil more celebrated than in the Mediterranean areas where it is produced. Restaurants quickly bring the newly-pressed oils to diners to enjoy.
Vendors sell them in their stalls at the markets. And, while these oils can be found in stores far from the source, or online, there is no better place to enjoy olive oil than on the farm where it is produced.
For foodies and everyone else, visiting areas where some of the world’s best olive oil is cultivated not only is educational and beautiful, but also supremely tasty.
Solta, Croatia: Known as “the island of olives,” this tiny Adriatic island a mere nine miles from Split (a 45-minute ferry ride), produces what is arguably the finest olive oil in the country. It is difficult to walk through any of the island’s towns and not find homemade olive oil slick and glistening in recycled plastic bottles. For those seeking an authentic olive oil experience, head to Olynthia, in Gornje Selo, Solta. Perched high on a hill, Olynthia lets guests get an up-close look at the modern cold-pressing equipment. Visitors can also tour the olive trees, which are more than 100 years old and watch the oil being made. Of course, no tour is complete without a tasting of the freshly pressed oils.
Girona, Spain: Trees in the Catalonia region date back more than 3,500 years ago, when the Greeks and Romans first introduced them to Spanish soil. While Catalonia only produces a mere 4 percent of Spain’s olive oil, it has a reputation for producing some of the best in the country. Just outside of Les Borges Blanques is an olive oil museum/theme park, Les Borges Blanques Parc Temàtic de l’Oli. The museum walks guests through the history of olive oil production and has on display antique presses, including one of the largest in the world, and a collection of oil cruets. After taking part in the tasting, step out to the small orchard of 50-plus ancient olive trees. They’ve been there for more than 2,000 years and are enough to make any foodie or historian hop on the next flights to Spain.
Crete, Greece: The Cretan Olive Oil Farm offers more than just insight into olives. It also highlights other products from Crete, including wine, Rakia and crafts. This East Crete farm has become a beacon in the agro-tourism industry in Greece– it was created to show visitors another side of Crete and does so very well. Visitors can meet with a potter, spend time with the animals (a donkey, two rabbits, a cockerel and dog) living on the farm, help tread grapes, throw their own pottery and, naturally, learn about olive oil and taste some of the region’s best.
Umbria, Italy: Umbria has special olive oil bragging rights – it is the only region in the country to receive the Protected Denomination of Origin, meaning the Umbrian olive oil is one-of-a-kind, thanks to geography and the environment. The five hills of the region all produce some of Italy’s best EVOO: Trasimeno, Martani, Orvieto (home to the Olive Oil Museum), Amerini and Assisi-Spoleto. It also has the Olive Oil Road, which takes visitors through the olive oil hot spots in the region. For olive oil lovers planning a trip to Umbria, mark your calendars for a weekend between October and December. Each year, the region hosts “Frantoi Aperti” where nearly 30 mills on the Road open their doors on the weekend and invite guests in to learn about the ins and outs of olive oil production and to taste their oil. At night, the nearby towns come alive with numerous cultural events.
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