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Taggiasche olives are the typical Ligurian olives of the Riviera di Ponente and owe their name to the town of Taggia in the province of Imperia, from which they are said to originate. Taggiasche olives are used in recipes such as rabbit Ligurian style, with fish and for sauces
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Más información sobre Taggiasca olives
If you want to taste the true flavour of Liguria and get to know the authentic spirit of this land, you cannot miss the Taggiasca olives. In addition to their inimitable taste that characterises so many typical local recipes, the Taggiasca olives have contributed to shaping the Ligurian territory: even today we remain fascinated by the olive groves that climb the hillsides, terraced with dry stone walls, overlooking the blue sea. This fairytale landscape is the work of centuries-old Ligurian farmers who built stone upon stone the land where they could cultivate olive trees. The Taggiasca olive is used to produce pitted olives, olives in brine, olive pulp pâté and a fine oil.
WHAT ARE TAGGIASCA OLIVES?
Taggiasche olives are the typical olives of Liguria, particularly of the Riviera di Ponente from where they originate. Taggiasca olives are famous because they are one of the very few cultivars that can be used both as table olives (for eating and cooking) and as olives for making oil. In fact, these olives are small in size but very fleshy, with a soft skin and pleasant to the palate. The flavour of Taggiasca olives is delicate, sweet and at the same time aromatic, so much so that they are also used as an ingredient to flavour, for example, sauces but also meat and fish dishes. The oil obtained from these olives has a very low acidity, which is why it is considered one of the most valuable olive oils.
When the fruit of this olive reaches maturity, it is black-purple in colour on the outside, its shape is clindrical-elongated and its average weight is between 2 and 4 grams. However, the Taggiasca olives are not all ready to harvest immediately, but ripening takes place over time between October and January, so it happens that the olives that are pickled have a different colouring ranging from green to black. At the same time, this allows growers to better manage the harvest since, among other things, it still has to be done by hand because the characteristic terracing does not allow the use of agricultural machinery in Ligurian olive groves.
WHAT DOES 'TAGGIASCHE' MEAN?
The name 'taggiasca' originates from a Ligurian locality in the province of Imperia, namely Taggia. Here, Benedictine monks arriving from Provence are said to have transplanted olive trees in the Middle Ages. These trees found a unique environment in the Riviera di Ponente and thus developed original characteristics, giving rise to a new cultivar. The climate of the Riviera di Ponente is mild and temperate and the cultivation of the Taggiasca olive, which is concentrated along the maritime strip, can reach up to over 500 metres above sea level. This is how the Taggiasca olive was born, which also spread to other parts of Italy but has only maintained its peculiarities in Liguria. But let us delve deeper into the history of Ligurian olives.
The beginnings in the Middle Ages
We do not know precisely when olive cultivation was introduced in Liguria, because, for instance, Strabo claims that during his time (i.e. under the Emperor Augustus) the Ligurians sourced their oil from other peoples. While this does not necessarily exclude the presence of domesticated olive trees (already cultivated by neighbouring Greek colonies to the west such as Marseille), it can be taken as evidence of the absence of true olive growing. For these reasons, it is hypothesised that olive cultivation was taught to local farmers by Benedictine monks in the Middle Ages and an early development of olive growing can be attributed to this monastic order. The Benedictines are also said to have been the ones who introduced the techniques for building the strips and dry-stone walls to terrace the steep Ligurian terrain. Others claim that it was the Crusaders returning from the Holy Land who brought olive growing to Liguria from the East. According to the Consorzio di Tutela Olio DOP Riviera Ligure, rather than the Benedictines, we only have certain evidence of another monastic order, namely the Cistercians present in the lower Argentina valley (that of Taggia) in the 12th century.
However, whatever the factor that triggered the cultivation of Taggiasca olives, it is fairly certain that olive production remained scarce at least until the 17th century: in the medieval statutes of the coastal centres the olive tree has a sporadic presence, if not together with crops considered more important at the time such as vines; Diano and Rapallo are exceptions. Even in the early 16th century, we have no evidence of oil surpluses from communities under the rule of the Republic of Genoa.
The real development of the Taggiasca olive tradition in Liguria
At the end of the 1500s, animal fats ceased to be the main ingredient for seasoning food. This increased the demand for oil from central-northern European regions and, at the same time, the price of the product, which made olive cultivation profitable. Therefore, in those areas of Liguria where there had already been an initial spread of olive growing, it had such an impulse that it transformed the local territory and landscape.
In the Riviera di Ponente, the olive tree became the dominant crop, especially in the Imperia area, while in the Riviera di Levante it was added to the cultivation of vines, citrus fruits and cereals, which were instead abandoned in the other Riviera. The great development and diffusion of the Taggiasca olive throughout the Ligurian area dates back to this period, while the 'Lavagnina' olive (the other famous Ligurian cultivar) remained more confined to the Levante area.
The main market for oil from the rivieras was certainly Genoa, which purchased this product both for its domestic market and for export, functioning as a sorting centre to other Italian and European regions. For example, Ligurian oil was for a long time fundamental for production for the soap factories of Provence: Provence itself, which represented the excellence of the time for olive growing, due to the terrible winter of 1709 became more and more dependent on Ligurian oil and this probably gave further impetus to the establishment of a monoculture in western Liguria.
Crisis and revival of the Taggiasca cultivar
In 1800, the peak of production was reached. By then, the Taggiasca olive had profoundly changed the Riviera di Ponente both in terms of traditions (there are many recipes in which this ingredient is used) and the characteristic landscape with terraces of olive trees overlooking the sea. Unfortunately, however, from mid-century onwards, due to rising labour costs, olive growing was no longer a profitable trade and local farmers found themselves forced to abandon oil production. They preferred other crops (new or resuming old ones) to the extreme of having to cut down the trees because it was cheaper to make wood.
Today, fortunately, there has been a rediscovery of the Taggiasca olive, both as a table olive and as an olive for oil, which has meant that this production has become a local heritage to be preserved and promoted. The characteristics of the terrain, with terracing on steep hillsides, have prevented mechanisation of cultivation even in contemporary times. Paradoxically, this has turned a possible problem into an opportunity, since the processing of Taggiasca olives has maintained an authentic craftsmanship (everything is done by hand, even the harvesting) that is a guarantee of excellence and quality.
HOW ARE TAGGIASCA OLIVES USED?
Taggiasca olives are both table olives and olives for producing oil. The ratio of pulp to stone of this fruit is perfect for an olive for eating and at the same time the pulp is rich in oil, with yields 25% higher than other varieties. As table olives, they are marketed as pitted olives in oil or whole olives preserved in brine. The processing with water and salt allows the natural flavour of the olives to be sweetened: this phase is called 'tanning' and is necessary for all table olives (also for the production of Taggiasca olives in oil, for instance). The olives are ready to be tasted after about two months of ripening in water and salt, brine that is changed several times.
Taggiasca olives are also used to make an olive pulp pâté, a bit like in neighbouring Provence where olives are used to make tapenade, a puree of olives, capers, anchovies and other ingredients (according to the family recipe) that is then spread on bread and croutons as an appetiser and aperitif.
Taggiasca olive oil is fine and harmonious, with notes of dried fruit, almonds and pine nuts. It is marketed as extra virgin monocultivar taggiasco oil or as Ligurian PDO 'Riviera Ligure' oil, both for the 'Riviera dei Fiori' (Province of Imperia) and the 'Riviera del Ponente Savonese' types. In 'Riviera dei Fiori' PDO oil, oil from olives of the Taggiasca variety must be at least 90%, while in 'Riviera del Ponente Savonese' oil at least 50%. Both monocultivar and DOP oil are superior quality oils. Taggiasche olive oil is preferred in the Genoese pesto recipe. Its delicate yet fragrant flavour makes it ideal for seasoning and to enhance raw dishes: for example with meat or fish tartare. Confirming the quality of this oil is the fact that it is also used in desserts and sweet creams, such as cocoa and chocolate, or for fruit sorbets. A typical cake from the province of Imperia is an oil-based cake, a crumbly pastry made with Taggiasco oil, called 'stroscia', flavoured with marsala and lemon, which could almost be described as a sweet dry focaccia!
RECIPES WITH TAGGIASCA OLIVES
Thanks to their sweetness and aromaticity, Taggiasca olives lend themselves to use in many recipes. We advise you to abandon all qualms and start immediately to become familiar with this ingredient even if only as a garnish, such as on pizza and bruschetta, or in rice salad! Taggiasca olives go very well with both seafood flavours (all fish in general, but especially cod and stockfish) and land-based flavours, meat but also vegetables such as artichokes. But let's discover in more detail some recipes with Taggiasca olives to try right now!
Ligurian-style rabbit with Taggiasca olives
One of the most famous dishes in which taggiasca olives are used is certainly rabbit alla ligure. This second course is typical of the western area, where from Savona onwards each family jealously guards the secrets of its recipe. The common base is the casserole cooking of the rabbit in pieces together with other ingredients such as garlic, pine nuts, wine and precisely the taggiasche olives. But already on the type of wine to use there are different schools of thought, such as those who prefer to blend with a white wine (like the local Pigato) or use a red wine like Rossese di Dolceacqua. Not to mention the aromas and flavours: in this case they range from a simpler parsley to cinnamon.
Ligurian-style rabbit is prepared by first browning the pieces of meat by themselves so that the little bit of wildness is released: the rabbit does not need to be marinated beforehand, we just recommend cooking it a few minutes separately first. Then the rabbit is sautéed in a saucepan with garlic and herbs, then deglazed with wine. Add the pine nuts, broth (bay leaves and dried mushrooms to taste) and some of the Taggiasca olives. Cook over a gentle heat until the meat comes off the bone, basting occasionally with the stock. Add the rest of the taggiasche olives only towards the end. Ligurian-style rabbit can be served as a main course with a side dish of baked potatoes. We recommend the same wine you have chosen for cooking the rabbit as a pairing.
Stockfish served with Taggiasca olives
The tradition of stockfish in Genoa and Liguria is due to the trade relations that Genoese merchants had with Northern European countries, also because cod is not a fish found in the Mediterranean. Stoccafisso is dried cod (while salt cod is cod). To use stockfish, you must first soak it in water for a few days (they sell it ready-made). In this recipe, you should use it without skin and bones, so cut it into chunks. To remove the skin and bones more easily, blanch the stockfish for a few minutes.
In a saucepan, prepare a sauté of garlic, onion and other flavours to taste such as parsley. Then add the stockfish, capers and pine nuts. Sauté. Finally add the Taggiasca olives in brine and some peeled tomatoes. Deglaze with white wine and cook over moderate heat, checking that it does not dry out too much. After half an hour, add some potatoes cut into large pieces. Add salt to taste. The dish is ready when the potatoes are cooked. Some people also use dried mushrooms in this recipe, inevitable in Genoese recipes.
Sauce with Taggiasca olives
There are many ways to use these olives to season pasta. For example, you can add them to a tomato sauce or fresh cherry tomatoes, with a few basil leaves and capers, or use them to flavour fish sauces (from tuna to squid) or vegetable sauces (courgettes). Instead of whole olives, you can season pasta with Taggiasca olive cream: you can find it ready-made, under various names such as pulp or cream or pâté, or you can make it at home (the result will certainly be a bit more rustic...) Olive cream has a very sweet taste, so our advice for using it with pasta is to mix it with other ingredients: you can try adding fresh cheese (we recommend the typical Genoese prescinsêua) and grated cheese, or fresh herbs such as oregano, basil or marjoram.
Taggiasca olive paste
In the sauce section we showed you how great these olives are for making sauces and pasta dressings. All the more good for making tasty appetisers, from bruschettas to canapés and croutons. With the pulp of the Taggiasca olives you can make a creamy spread: it can be used as it is, just seasoned with extra virgin olive oil and salt, but you will definitely find it tastier if you add other flavours together. We recommend that you try aromatic herbs such as thyme or marjoram in combination. To expand the full flavour potential of this olive pulp, a good choice is to mix the cream with a spoonful of balsamic vinegar and/or anchovy paste.
Anchovies are also one of the ingredients of the typical French olive sauce, tapenade. Tapenade can be made either with a knife or with a mortar. You start with pitted olives and chop them together with capers and desalted anchovies. It can be flavoured with lemon (as juice or zest) or with garlic or wine. Flavouring with Mediterranean herbs is recommended. In addition to tartare, tapenade is ideal as a sauce to accompany cheese and main courses.
The Taggiasca olive cream is excellent as a pate for canapés or to garnish savoury pizzas and focaccias. In the case of pizza or focaccia, we recommend adding the cream as it comes out of the oven and not before baking. It is also perfect as a sauce for sandwiches and burgers, and to accompany fried food, especially fries (or why not, the more typical panissette!).