Replicating what has happened in the wine world, the range of single variety olive oils (“monocultivar”) has grown. However, it begs the question: which is better, single or blended?
Let’s try to analyse the phenomenon and understand if an oil produced from a single variety of olive is better than that produced by a blend of different cultivars or by oils obtained from different cultivars.
First of all, it must be said that, unlike vineyards, where the great attention paid to the propagation material translates into a homogeneity of the vine grown in each individual parcel, in traditional olive groves the norm is the presence of a wide variety of cultivars. The main reasons are due to the fact that in the past olive groves were grown with local varieties without paying too much attention to the origin of the propagation material; in addition, many of the best known varieties of olive trees are sterile (for example, “Leccino”, “Moraiolo”, “Cerasuola”, and “Carolea”) and therefore need other varieties to replicate (the so-called “pollinators”); finally, the presence of different varieties somehow protects against the alternation of environmental and parasitic conditions that, at times, can affect the productivity of a single cultivar.
Bearing this in mind, it is clear that a blend produced within a limited and clearly identifiable geographical area, in which there is a reduced number of indigenous varieties, will have chemical-physical and organoleptic characteristics typical of the referenced area (i.e., territorial identity). This was something that was emphasised with the instigation of, at a Community level, the protected designations PDO and PGI.
A similar method of identification is used in the wine world, one of the most well-known is “Bordeaux”, obtained from a precise blend of different vines: “Cabernet Sauvignon”, “Cabernet Franc” and “Merlot”.
However, an oil from a single variety of olive (“monocultivar”) will have the chemical-physical and organoleptic characteristics typical of the referenced cultivar (i.e., genetic identity) which, although linked to a specific area, will never be an expression of the entire territory, except in those rare cases where the is only one cultivar.
Obviously, not all cultivars are suitable for producing monocultivar oils and that the excellence of a monocultivar oil is subordinate to the implementation of the correct cultivation techniques for that specific cultivar; in addition, while for the PDO and PGI oils there are specific disciplinary rules to guarantee quality and origin, there is currently no legislation of reference with regards to monocultivar oils.
As is often the case, there is no definitive answer and much of it depends on individual circumstances. Both blended and single variety oils can be and often are excellent.
The difference between an oil produced from a single variety of olive and a blend resembles that of wine: there is the Italian method, based mainly on maintaining a link with the territory, and that of the French, based on the characteristics of the grape.
It’s like listening to music; some prefer solo artists, others a full orchestra. Everyone has their own taste!