In 2020, 2000 litres of extra virgin olive oil were produced in Canton Ticino, coming from fruit grown and ripened in the region. Ticino olive oil was included in the Swiss culinary heritage inventory in September 2021.
The olive tree (Olea europaea), is a Mediterranean plant, but it is also thriving well in Ticino. This may come as a surprise to the Swiss living on the northern side of the Alps, but not to those in Ticino, many of whom have olive trees in their gardens.
And this has been going on for centuries. The oldest known document referring to the presence of olive trees in Ticino is a deed of sale issued in 769, which mentions an "olivetallo meo in ipso vico Campellione", i.e. "my olive grove in the village of Campione" (today Campione d'Italia in Italy).
In the north of Italy, to which Ticino also belonged for centuries, the first olive trees were probably planted by the Romans. Olive oil was mainly used as a source of light. With the advent of cheaper oils and electricity, olive oil gradually lost its importance. The severe frosts of 1494, 1600 and 1709 led to the complete destruction of the trees. Later the olive trees were sacrificed in favour of mulberry trees to encourage silkworm cultivation.
Towards the end of the 1980s, olive cultivation was revived, this time for culinary reasons. In mid-2021, a comprehensive census in the Sotto and Sopraceneri regions of Ticino identified just under 7,700 olive trees, and the trend is increasing (global warming favours olive tree cultivation). However, olive oil from Ticino remains a rarity.
A good third of the varieties are well-known. The most common are Leccino, Frantoio and Pendolino. Ascolana is a variety of table olives. Pro Specie Rara has planted trees in four olive groves where the varieties are unknown.
In July 2021, a tasting of five Ticino olive oils yielded flavours ranging from medium to light fruitiness. Not all these oils are commercially available; the ones you can find and buy most frequently are "Olio del Ceresio" (olives from the shores of Lake Lugano) by Tamborini, "Olio Amorosa" (Sementina-Gudo; Sopraceneri) by Delea or "L'or da Gandria" by the Associazione Viva Gandria.