Before arriving to Buenos Aires, I obviously made some research about the different extra virgin olive oils (EVOO) here. Quickly, I’ve been surprised by the diversity of varieties that Argentina had to offer. A lot of European varieties are grown here as the climate and latitude* made Argentina a perfect place for olive cultivation.
* olives can grow between latitudes of 35˚ and 45˚, in both Southern & Northern hemispheres.
I will try to explain as quickly as I can the amazing story of Olive Oil in Argentina.
Olive cultivation is strongly linked to the colonisation of the country.
The cultivation spread at the end of the 16th century, while the country was under Spanish influence. Unfortunately, at the start of the 17th century, Charles III, King of Spain, realised how much of a competition Argentine olive oils could be to his own production. So, he decided to give an order that would mark the country’s History forever: cut off all the olive trees to stop production!
There is reality, and of course, some touches of legend…
From what I heard there during my trip, when the King’s messenger arrived to deliver the order, some farmers asked to keep one or two trees for their personal consumption.
Another story is that only one olive grove was kept by Dona Expetacion de la Fuente de Avilla. This plantation was located in the region of La Rioja, more precisely in Arauco...
Whatever the truth is, the end result is that after a long period of time, the remaining trees started to breed and Natural selection created the Arauco varietal, which is now recognised as the indigenous varietal of Argentina.
Olive growing in argentina is tumultuous and the last century is here to prove it!
During the last century, olive growing in the Argentina has been quite a tumultuous story. In the 30s the government of Mendoza promoted it, the successful campaign led to 7 million trees accounted for in 1953.
However, in 1960 came the big turnaround, vines became kings and slowly replaced olive trees. The climax was reached in the 70’s when an anti-olive oil consumption campaign was made in favour of other vegetal oil consumption. 20 000 Ha were uprooted, only 3 million trees were left in the 80’s. It was a really bad time...
Finally, a new era started in the 90’s. In a global context where the price of olive oil was rising and the production in Europe falling, olive growing started to increase again!
Today, Argentina is the biggest producer of Olive Oil in South America with 100 000 Ha planted, 21 million trees and over 100 mills.
Like what you can find in most olive oil producing countries, there are different profiles of producers, from high profitable exploitation (intensive) not classified as EVOO to producers that seek perfection on a different scale (high quality EVOO with real ethics of production). We were lucky to meet some of them in the Mendoza, such as Olio Lagomaggiore, Tapiz or Familia Zuccardi...