“Bella di Cerignola” olives have been cultivated since time immemorial. Some believe that they come from the “Orchites” olives of the Romans, others believe they were introduced from Spain before 1400 AD.
However, since there is no evidence of them among native Spanish varieties, they should be considered a native variety of Cerignola in ancient Daunia, now known as Tavoliere delle Puglie.By the end of the nineteenth century, there are reports of olives cured in the Cerignola area that were exported to the eastern part of the United States of America.
They were shipped in characteristic wooden barrels known locally as “Vascidd”, varying from 50 to 100 kg in capacity, and even more commonly in “Cugnett”, typical wooden containers weighing between 5 and 10 kg.
These were used for small supplies on a domestic scale and later enjoyed intense and widespread commercial success in distant America. In around 1920, Cerignola olives were also introduced to California, through migration to the western part of the United States.
Since the 1930s, the Cerignola olive has become the focus of considerable attention: it has been named as one of the best Italian table varieties; seminars have been held to study it; institutes and universities have published works on its cultivation and preservation methods and qualitative characteristics; finally, in 2000, the “Bella di Cerignola” table olive variety obtained European registration as “La Bella della Daunia” Protected Designation of Origin and its protection consortium was established in 2002.
Cerignola olives have an elongated elliptical shape and are well known for their thickness, beauty, size, firm flesh and resistance to handling and storage. The “La Bella della Daunia” protected designation of origin covers both green and black table olives of the “Bella di Cerignola” variety grown within the area described in the product specifications.
The cultivation system must be the traditional one used in the area, which is closely linked to the particular features of its terrain, soil and climate.
The planting density for “La Bella della Daunia PDO” olives trees is limited to a maximum of 420 per hectare and they are pruned annually. The olives are harvested directly from the tree, starting from October 1 for the green olives and from the end of October for the black ones.
Sheets are laid down to prevent the olives from coming into contact with the ground and irrigation is stopped 10-15 days before harvesting to prevent damage due to the olives being too swollen or delicate.
The green olives are cured using the “Sivigliano” method: after being measured, they are immersed in a lye solution (sodium hydroxide) for between eight and fifteen hours, until the lye has penetrated 2/3 of the pulp.
They are then washed and left to ferment for 30-60 days in containers filled with brine. Finally, they are packaged and pasteurised.
Black olives undergo a curing process called the “Californian System”: they are measured and then placed in airtight containers with a brine solution, of varying concentration depending on their thickness, until curing.
The brine is then replaced with a first lye solution of varying concentration and they are directly exposed to air. A series of washing and air exposure operations are carried out, with compressed air pumped into the water. Finally, they are packed and sterilised. This method is divided into two alternative processes that differ according to the salt concentration of the brine and the lye.
The Local Area
The production and marketing of these table olives have always been an activity of major importance for Cerignola, and thanks to the determination and efforts of its operators, today these olives enjoy growing demand on the domestic and foreign consumer markets.
The production area of the “La Bella della Daunia” protected designation of origin described in the product specifications includes the province of Foggia, part of the municipalities of Cerignola, Orta Nova, Stornarella and Trinitapoli, and the entire rural areas of San Ferdinand and Stornara.
Thanks to the preservation methods now offered by modern technology, the organoleptic characteristics of this traditional food product can be maintained while providing a firm guarantee of hygiene and food safety.
These olives also have particular medicinal properties, containing monounsaturated fatty acids, thought to play an essential role in preventing the onset of symptoms associated with atherosclerosis.
Today, “La Bella della Daunia” PDO Bella di Cerignola olives are duly recognised as one of the products typical of the Mediterranean diet. Their full, delicious flavour can be enjoyed even on their own, without wine or other dishes.
Curator — Consorzio di tutela oliva da mensa DOP La Bella della Daunia