We The Italians | Italian flavors: Nocellara del Belice

Italian flavors: Nocellara del Belice

Italian flavors: Nocellara del Belice

  • WTI Magazine #149 Mar 19, 2022
  • 411

The history of the Nocellara del Belice olive is 2,700 years old. Sicily, particularly the Belice Valley area, has been colonized at various times over the course of the centuries. The land was subjected in turn by the Sicani, Elymians, Phoenicians and Greeks, followed by the Romans, Normans, Arabs and Spaniards. The reason for this is simple. Located in the heart of the Mediterranean, Sicily has always been prized by the great military and political powers of each era, due to its landscape and productive wealth. Traces of their settlements are still visible today and provide a great attraction for tourists, together with the natural beauty of the island and the quality of its typical products.

The imposing ruins of the ancient city of Selinunte, a Greek colony of the 7th century BC, can be seen In the Belice Valley. For a long period, this remained a highly strategic garrison in terms of the production of oil and food. This was clearly confirmed by the discovery of ancient stone mills in the vicinity of the temples, which date back to the 5th century BC. The use of this product as a table olive dates back to the start of the 20th century, due to the efforts of some of the local olive growers.

The product

Nocellara del Belice PDO Table Olives take their name from the Belice valley. One of their great advantages is that they are dual purpose olives: they can be pressed to make exquisite Valle del Belice PDO extra virgin olive oil, or can be enjoyed at the table in a variety of ways and occasions.

When harvested in October, they have an attractive green colour and crisp flesh. According to the experts, their organoleptic characteristics make them one of the finest table olives in the world. They can come in various sizes and a beautiful shade of bright green, which becomes a wine red when ripe. The flesh is crisp and detaches easily from the stone.

The flavour is pleasantly sweet, sour and tangy with a subtle hint of bitterness, which varies according to the type of processing.Their delicious taste is not the only quality that makes the olives so precious. Aside from its excellent flavour, this fruit has extraordinary nutritional properties that enhance physical health and well-being. It is safe to say that its oil is one of the most balanced and perfect combinations of fibre, vitamins, minerals and fats existing in nature.

The lipid portion is characterised by a high content of monounsaturated fatty acids, the so-called “good” fats, particularly the beneficial oleic acid. Table olives are also the fruit with the lowest percentage of carbohydrates. They contain very little sugar and can therefore be safely consumed by those whose sugar intake is restricted by specific conditions.

The olives are particularly rich in easily digestible dietary fibre, which contributes significantly to the regular functioning of the digestive system and preventing the onset of colon cancer. They also help reduce cellular ageing, because they contain an abundance of polyphenols, which have high antioxidant properties. The oil ensures a good mineral intake, in even higher proportions than many vegetables. In particular, the quantity of calcium and magnesium in the table olives is comparable to that of breast milk.


The table olives are harvested manually from the end of September and throughout October. They are placed in aerated plastic boxes with rigid sides and taken to the factories to be processed immediately. In the initial product processing phase, the olives are sorted according to size; the debittering process is then carried immediately: the “Castelvetrano” (sweet) method involves the complete debittering of fruit, which is then preserved in a saline solution. The olives treated with the “Sevillian” (semi-sweet) system undergo partial debittering, with subsequent fermentation and preservation in brine.

The “Natural” (pleasantly bitter) system, using whole or crushed olives, involves fermentation and storage in brine. Finally, the natural transformation into black olives involves oxidation of the mature product with air.

The local area

The Nocellara del Belice PDO Table Olive area overlooks the Strait of Sicily, not far from the continent of Africa, and enjoys a unique microclimate, which, together with the red Mediterranean soils, provides the ideal conditions for olive growing. The Belice Valley comprises the area in which the river Belice flows. The valley is in the western part of Sicily and occupies an area between the provinces of Palermo, Trapani and Agrigento.

There is an important archaeological site near Rocca d’Entella, famous for the so-called Decrees of Entella. The area probably also included the location of the ancient site of Nakone, of which traces are preserved in two scanty literary references, various coin discoveries and the so-called Decrees of Nakone, which are comparable to those of Entella.

The main economic resource of the Belice Valley is agri-food production and olive growing. It has been this way since the settlement of the first populations and the birth of Selinunte, whose inhabitants cultivated and propagated the olive tree, colonising valleys and fertile lands in the interior, and producing oil.

According to Pliny, Selinunte was an important city for trade with Magna Graecia and the Mediterranean Sea, thanks to its naval fleet and the local food products, such as wine, cereals and oil. Olives were already one of the main crops the Belice Valley in the 17th century; an ecotype has evolved since the 18th century, adapting to the local climatic conditions of over the years to produce one of the most renowned Italian cultivars: Nocellara del Belice.

The “Nocellara del Belice” PDO Table Olive production area includes 3 municipalities: Campobello di Mazara, Castelvetrano and Partanna.

By Consorzio Promozione Oliva da Tavola Nocellara del Belìce DOP with MiPAAF