live oil is big business in Europe. Olive trees have been cultivated in the Mediterranean region since the 8th century. Italy, Spain, and Greece are the world’s three biggest producers of olive oil. Between them, the olive oil industry employs over 2.5 million farmers. This page looks in depth at the each county’s olive industries.
of World's Production
acres of olive farming land
Spain is the world’s largest producer of olive oil. Over an area of 5 million acres, Spain has over 300 million olive trees, of which, 92% of the olives picked are used to produce olive oil. In fact, Spain produces so much olive oil it exports a large percentage of its production abroad to Italy, where the Italians re-bottle and then re-export to North America, Japan and Northern Europe at marked up prices.
Although on the rise, Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) only makes up 20% of the Olive oil sold at retail in Spain.
The variety of olives produced in Spain is combined with the great variety of existing microclimates throughout the country to produce an extensive variety of oils.
Italy is the world’s second largest olive oil producer after Spain, and manufactures between 500,000 to 700,000 tonnes annually. This around about 20% of the world’s total production.
Italy is also famous for the number of cultivars (varieties of olives) grown, of which there are over 700.
The demand for olive oil is so great in Italy, that in some areas the quality has been scarified. Many Italian olive oils are actually manufactured from imported olives from Spain mixed with Italian olives. To distinguish these lower quality mixes, the highest quality Italian olive oils are protected by the European Union, and are known as DOP (Protected Designation of Origin). Gaining DOP recognition, is no easy task, each DOP olive oils is checked at least once a year and are measured against 30 criteria. Failing even one of these criteria means losing DOP certification. Looking for the DOP certification on any Italian olive oil is a good indicator of quality.