The olive tree, native to the Mediterranean region, is traditionally a symbol of health and peace. Evidence from archeology suggests that olive trees were grown around 2500 B.C. Historically, olive oil has been used to anoint prophets and kings in religious ceremonies. In ancient Greek, “Christ” means the anointed one; Jesus Christ was in fact anointed with olive oil. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, a dove carrying a branch of olive tree in its beak is the symbol of peace.
Olive oil was produced in the Sabina region, in Central Italy, since long before the founding of Rome. Once the Ancient Romans discovered it, the oil of Sabina became the olive oil of the Eternal City. Then, the Romans introduced olive cultivation in all their territories, from Spain to North Africa and the entire Mediterranean area, which was divided into olive oil provinces. The conquered populations were obliged to pay taxes in various forms, including casks of olive oil. Thus olive oil became a key currency in the Roman economy and was also a traded commodity.
The Romans classified olive oil into five different grades: the finest was the oleum ex albis ulivis, obtained from pressing green olives, equivalent to today’s EVOO. The lowest was the oleum cibarium, produced from over-ripened olives that had fallen to the ground, and it was used to feed slaves.
After the fall of the Roman Empire and the successive Barbarian invasions, the cultivation and commerce of olive oil suffered a decline. Only during the Middle Ages did olive oil production revive, thanks to the work of religious congregations, and with the construction of roads and the development of trade through the subsequent centuries, Italy has constantly maintained the lead in the production of high-quality olive oil. Today, Italy, with more than 700 different varieties of olive trees, is the country with the most diverse and unique olive trees in the world.