Among the rolling hills and steep cliffs of Sardinia, Italy’s second largest island after Sicily, are farms growing many things, including grains, grapes, and olives.
The olive trees of Sardinia are so special, in fact, that their oil has been granted with PDO designation, meaning it’s a uniquely special product that can only come from that area, and only from the local olive varieties Bosana, Tonda di Cagliari, Nera di Villacidro, and Semidana. (The same designation is given to world-famous regional specialties like balsamic vinegar from Modena and parmigiano reggiano from Emilia-Romagna.)
Photo: Accademia Olearia
A traditional culture that's still very much connected to the rhythms of the land and sea, visiting Sardinia is a beautiful glimpse into Italy’s past. Research has found that 10 times as many Sardinians live to the age of 100 as Americans. We can’t say it’s purely because of the olive oil, but it certainly doesn’t hurt! After all, olive oil is rich in healthful polyphenols and antioxidants—and the more flavorful the oil, the more of these compounds it contains. The herbal, artichoke-like character of Sardinian olive oil is a testament to its nutrient-packed goodness.
Sardinia’s history dates back millennia. One of the island’s most recognizable features are the nuraghi, cone-shaped structures made of volcanic stone that were built around 1900 BCE. Because of its location in the Mediterranean, Sardinia has been home to a number of civilizations over the centuries, from the Romans to the Vandals, Austrians, and Spanish. It was the Spanish occupiers who encouraged the locals to improve and increase their olive oil production in the 16th century, turning what had been a small, home-based practice into a global powerhouse.
Nuraghi in Sardinia
Today, Sardinian olive oil is renowned across Europe and the globe for its rich flavor and consistent high quality. One of the companies making the most of the local olives is Accademia Olearia. It’s run by the Fois family, who began growing olives near Alghero in 1890. Alghero, a beautiful town facing the sea on the northwestern coast of Sardinia, still bears the marks of its Spanish past—the Catalan language is still spoken there! It’s a town that is especially suited to olive cultivation, with a temperate climate that’s cooled by Mediterranean breezes. Accademia Olearia’s groves contain more than 25,000 trees, the oldest of which they believe to be more than 4,000 years old.
Their Gran Riserva oil is the best of Sardinia, made primarily from Bosana olives with a blend of the other local varieties. The olives are hand-harvested from select trees in the late fall and cold-pressed within 12 hours to retain their fresh character. Bosana olives are especially high in polyphenols, and while the smallish fruits can also be enjoyed whole, either while still green or when ripened to black, they shine brightest when pressed. Fruity, bitter, and spicy, they make a powerhouse oil that is as stunning as the Sardinian landscape.