Malta lies in the heart of the Mediterranean, east of Tunisia, south of Sicily and just 200 hundred miles north of the African coast of Libya and has played an important part in the history of the Mediterranean over many thousands of years. The Islands have a Mediterranean climate with mild winters and long hot summers which is perfect for the cultivation of olives and other crops such as figs, carob and citrus fruits.
At the time of the Romans olive trees were common all over Malta and at that time there were many large and important olive oil producing estates established on the Island, and small amounts of Maltese olive oil was exported to other countries around the empire at that time.
But with the decline of the Roman Empire the production of olive oil and cultivation of olive trees gradually became less important and with the introduction of other crops such as cotton and oranges the production of olive oil on the island of Malta ceased.
Between the time that the Romans left Malta and up to the 20th Century there were still a small number of olive trees on the Island but the olives they produced were normally only consumed as part of the peasant diet with bread or simple dishes and not used for olive oil production.
It was only in the late 20th century that interest in the propagation of olive trees on Malta and the production of olive oil resumed, also at that time the study and the reintroduction of the indigenous Maltese olive varieties became increasing important.
Malta is now starting to produce good extra virgin olive oils though still in relatively small quantities but these are increasingly sold in good food outlets the Island but are unfortunately are not readily available outside of Malta.
There are several cultivars of the European olive tree now grown on Malta, most coming from southern Italian and Sicilian varieties but there are also two important varieties of Maltese olives, the Maltija and the Bidjina. Both the Maltese varieties produce very high quality olive oil with the Bidnija cultivar, which is believed to be the oldest Maltese olive cultivar producing extra virgin olive oil of excellent quality rich in polyphenols and exhibiting high tolerance to environmental stress such as salinity and drought, it also demonstrates resistance to pests such as the olive fruit fly.
The indigenous varieties together with Carolea, Frantoio, Coratina, Pendolino and Leccino still tend to be planted in relatively small numbers per available hectare, normally just a few hundred trees to each parcel of land that is given over to olive oil production.
The foreign varieties of olives are also associated with higher productivity than the indigenous Maltese cultivars, typically an Italian olive tree will produce between 50 and 100% more oil per kilo than the Maltese indigenous varieties and for this reason most local farmers find foreign varieties more convenient and profitable to grow which until relatively recently left Malta at risk of losing most of its unique indigenous olive varieties.
To find out more about the chemical makeup and the important characteristic properties which make Maltese olive oils so special and also for good health please follow this link to the Journal of Oleo Science.
We at the Academy will be working with interested Maltese producers to increase the numbers of Maltese indigenous olive trees and extra virgin olive oil production over the next few years and will be marketing these fantastic olive oils outside of Malta through our contacts in other countries in Europe, Australia and also the USA.