The olive tree, olea europa, is native to the Mediterranean basin, originating in ancient Greece. Historically, olive oil has been used for religious rituals, medicines, as a fuel in oil lamps, soap-making, and body care. As one of the oldest and more important domesticated crops raised by humans, the olive tree has diverged naturally and spread around the world. There are now close to two thousand varietals of the olive grown on close to 24 million acres in countries throughout the Mediterranean, North Africa, South America, North America and Australia. Olives are one of the most extensively grown crops in the world.
Olives have been cultivated for over 6,000 years, originating in the Mediterranean and spreading throughout Africa, and eventually to the Americas and into Australia in the last two hundred years. Around 850 million olive trees are grown on approximately 22 million acres around the world. Around 10 million tonnes of olives are produced every year, 90% of which is made into extra virgin olive oil, while the remaining 10% is for table olives. At California Olive Ranch, we grow on olive farms throughout Northern California, ranging from as far north as Red Bluff down to Fresno.
A Few Other Varieties Grown Around the World
- Spain: Picual, Cornibranca
- Italy: Frantoio, Leccino
- Turkey: Gemik, Memeli
- Greece: Kalamon, Halkidiki, Koroneiki
- California: Arbequina, Mission
California olive varietals represent some of the best varietals originally cultivated in countries like Spain and Italy, which we brought over to grow ourselves here in California
There are close to 2,000 varieties of olives being grown throughout the Mediterranean, North Africa, Europe, South America, Australia, and North America. Each varietal boasts a unique flavor profile and is milled to suit the preferences of the local people. Olive varietals are primarily named for their location of origin; most names for cultivars come from place names. Some olives are grown specifically for curing and eating, while others are grown specifically for producing olive oil. Larger, fleshy olives are generally best for curing, as most of their flesh is made of water which must later be separated from the oil.
At California Olive Ranch, we grow three varietals of olives: Arbequina, Arbosana, and Koroneiki. Arbequina represents the largest percentage of acreage of any variety grown in California. However, the four oldest varieties of olives in the state are the Mission olive, Manzanillo, Sevillano, and Ascolano. These older varieties were used for curing for many years due to their large size, and are now being used more and more to make olive oil. Since the 1980’s, there are now close to 70 different olive oil varieties being cultivated in California. Many small producers make “Tuscan blends” which refers to the most common Tuscan varieties: Frantoio, Leccino, Moraiolo, Olivastra, and Pendolino.