Olive grove in Gandria

There is a long history of olive cultivation and olive oil production in southern Switzerland. Ticino is the main production region, with the Grisons being the only other production area in the country. However, olive production is economically marginal, as Switzerland lies at the northern limit of the cultivation area.[1]


It is not known when the olive tree was introduced in Switzerland. Retired legionaries from Julius Caesar's campaign in Gaul are said to have planted olive trees on the shores of Lake Como, which lies a few kilometres east of the current Swiss border. It is possible that they moved further towards Lake Lugano. It is also possible that the olive tree was domesticated in Ticino starting from indigenous wild-olive trees.[1]

Olive oil production on Swiss territory is attested by the monk Ekkehard IV from St. Gallen around the year 1000. He notably wrote: "Hunc olee fructum faciat lux, pax benedictum" ("This fruit of the olive tree gives light and blesses peace"). This sentence testifies to the main use of olive oil, as fuel for oil lamps. The olive tree was important enough to be mentioned in numerous documents, mostly sales registers, which confirm its presence over the centuries. In the cantonal archive of Ticino there is among other things a document from 1488 according to which two brothers from Bissone sold a property with "Holivetum" at Rovio. Another document from 1512 records the farm "of arable land and vineyard with olive trees located in the territory of Bissone".[1] Historical olive production is also suggested by local toponomy, with denominations such as Monte Oliveto ("mount of olives") found in various locations.[2]

Vineyards and olives at the Colle degli Ulivi

In 1494, 1600 and 1709, frost destroyed almost all the olive groves,[1] perhaps a consequence of the Little Ice Age, which affected Switzerland and Europe at that time.[3] Subsequently, the olive tree lost its importance and was partly replaced by the mulberry tree in the Lugano and Mendrisiotto regions. The breeding of silkworms became a more important source of income in Ticino.[4] Nevertheless, olive cultivation, along with mulberry, lemon and orange, is reported and described by travellers from northern Switzerland in the late 18th and early 19th century. It can therefore be deduced that the southern slopes of Monte Brè, San Salvatore, Arbostora and various other locations, were still populated by vast olive groves at that time.[2] In the 20th century, olive cultivation nearly disappeared. Olive oil was only produced in Gandria, in minute quantities.[1]

Towards the end of the 20th century, local cuisine and products began to attract growing interest throughout Switzerland. At the end of the 1980s, olive cultivation was revived at the Colle degli Ulivi in Coldrerio. Other olive groves were created in Sonvico and Sementina. In Gandria, the olive footpath was established.[1]

In 2016, a farm in Brusio (Grisons) began to cultivate olive trees on restored terraces that probably date back to the 16th century.[1] In 2019, a small olive farm was established in Satigny (Geneva), probably the first in the country on the north side of the Alps.[5] In 2021, Ticino olive oil was inscribed in the Culinary Heritage of Switzerland.[6]

Production and consumption

Extra virgin olive oil from Ticino

Southern Switzerland constitutes the northern limit (or historical limit in the context of global warming) of the cultivation zone where the climatic conditions are favourable to the growth of the olive, a plant sensitive to cold. The Flora Helvetica, the reference work for identifying flowering plants in Switzerland, describes the olive habitat: "Rocky slopes, bushes, cultivated and rarely wild in southern Ticino". The highest olive grove is found above Faido, at 907 metres above sea level. The most common cultivars are Leccino, Frantoio and Pendolino. In Sonvico, Melide, Lopagno and Verdabbio (Grisons), olive orchards with cultivars from Ticino have been established by ProSpecieRara.[1][7]

Olive oil production in Switzerland is very small. In 2020, 18,271 kilograms of olives were processed in the mills of Losone and Sonvico and 1,990 litres of olive oil were produced. This constitutes the bulk of the production in the country.[8]

Olive oil is popular in Switzerland and it is essentially imported from more southerly countries.[9] Olive oil is used in a few traditional dishes of southern Switzerland, notably Ticinese risotto.[10] It is also used as a condiment and accompanies regional products, such as fresh cheeses.[11][12]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Olio d'oliva ticinese". Culinary Heritage of Switzerland. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  2. ^ a b Bettelini, Arnoldo (1904). La flora legnosa del Sottoceneri (Cantone Ticino meridionale). Tipografia e Litografia Cantonale. pp. 146–148. Si trovano infatti delle denominazioni locali quali: Monte Oliveto presso Rancate e Monte Oliveto presso Ponte-Tresa che accennano assai probabilmente alla esistenza in queste località di antichi oliveti; l'assenza di cappelle sembra escludere che tali denominazioni siano delle dediche religiose. [...] J. C. Fäsi (1) scriveva nel 1766 che nel Luganese « accanto agli altri alberi fruttiferi l'olivo vien pure fortemente coltivato (stark gebaut); aranci e limoni non son rari ». [...] E. J. C. Füesslin (2) nel 1772: « L'intero paese ha una sovrabbondonza di buona frutta, di olivi, di gelsi: vi sono pure limoni ed aranci ». « Gli olivi crescono lungo il lago assai bene. » [...] Ghiringhelli (4) scriveva nel 1812 che « nelle sponde lacuali dell'Arbostora vi sono alcune foreste di olivi ». [...] Si può adunque desumere dalle notizie suesposte che le falde meridionali del Monte Brè, del S. Salvatore e dell'Arbostora e le campagne di Bissone e Campione erano popolate da vasti oliveti, dei quali gli alberi tuttora esistenti non sono che gli ultimi superstiti. [In fact, there are local denominations such as: Monte Oliveto near Rancate and Monte Oliveto near Ponte-Tresa which most likely refer to the existence of ancient olive groves in these localities; the absence of chapels seems to exclude that these denominations are religious dedications. [...] J. C. Fäsi (1) wrote in 1766 that in the Lugano area « alongside the other fruit trees, the olive tree is also heavily cultivated (stark gebaut); oranges and lemons are not rare. » [...] E. J. C. Füesslin (2) in 1772: « The whole country has an abundance of good fruit, olive trees, mulberry trees: there are also lemon and orange trees ». « The olive trees grow along the lake very well. » [...] Ghiringhelli (4) wrote in 1812 that « on the lake shores of the Arbostora there are some forests of olive trees ». [...] It can therefore be deduced from the above information that the southern slopes of Monte Brè, S. Salvatore and Arbostora and the countryside of Bissone and Campione were populated by vast olive groves, of which the trees still existing are only the last survivors.]
  3. ^ "Petit âge glaciaire". Historical Dictionary of Switzerland. Retrieved 2 March 2023. Dans les phases de progression des glaciers, plus particulièrement entre 1570 et 1630, les mauvaises récoltes dues au climat causèrent de fréquentes chertés. [In the phases of progression of the glaciers, more particularly between 1570 and 1630, the bad harvests due to the climate caused frequent high prices.]
  4. ^ "Soierie". Historical Dictionary of Switzerland. Retrieved 2 March 2023. Mais, pour des raisons climatiques, l'élevage des vers à soie y fut toujours marginal, sauf au Tessin où il fut important pour l'économie rurale entre le XVIIe et le XIXe siècle. [But, for climatic reasons, the breeding of silkworms was always marginal there, except in Ticino where it was important for the rural economy between the 17th and 19th centuries.]
  5. ^ Agosta, Gianluca (6 November 2022). "A Genève, un pionnier tente le pari des olives à la place de la vigne" [In Geneva, a pioneer is betting on olives instead of vines]. Radio Télévision Suisse. Retrieved 5 March 2023.
  6. ^ "L'olio prodotto a Gandria è pronto". La Regione. 4 November 2021. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  7. ^ Scarcelli, Rino (25 February 2023). "Au Tessin, la Suisse se redécouvre en terre d'oliviers" [In Ticino, Switzerland rediscovers itself as the land of olives]. Swissinfo. Retrieved 5 March 2023. Sur la base de témoignages anciens et de documents écrits, Pro Specie Rara a déterminé les régions du Tessin qui accueillaient historiquement les oliveraies. Des boutures ont été prélevées sur les arbres subsistants, confiées ensuite à des pépiniéristes qui en ont tiré des plants, eux-mêmes transmis à des cultivateurs pour la culture et la conservation. [Based on ancient testimonies and written documents, Pro Specie Rara has determined the regions of Ticino that historically hosted olive groves. Cuttings were taken from the remaining trees, then entrusted to nurseries who took seedlings, themselves transmitted to farmers for cultivation and conservation.]
  8. ^ "Scoprire l'olio d'oliva in Ticino". L’Agricoltore Ticinese. Unione Contadini Ticinesi. 3 December 2020. Retrieved 4 March 2023.
  9. ^ "L'huile d'olive se vend comme jamais en Suisse" [Olive oil is selling like never before in Switzerland]. Le Temps. 12 August 2021. Retrieved 6 March 2023.
  10. ^ "Recipe for Ticinese risotto". Lake Maggiore and Valleys Tourism Organisation. Regional Authority for the Development of Locarno and the Vallemaggia. Retrieved 6 March 2023. In families it is even cooked more than once a week, with a ritual that changes from home to home, because, it goes without saying, every family has its own recipe for making the perfect risotto. Here's ours: 100% Ticinese because it only uses typical products from our region, including the rice.
  11. ^ Bänziger, Erica (2015). Tessiner Küche - La cucina ticinese - La cuisine du Tessin. Seengen: Fona Verlag. p. 18. ...un piatto di formaggini di capra conditi con olio d'oliva e aceto balsamico, e serviti con un po' di pane della Valle Maggia. [...a plate of goat cheese dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and served with some bread from the Maggia Valley.]
  12. ^ "Robiola". Centro di Competenze Agroalimentari Ticino. Retrieved 6 March 2023. La robiola si gusta fresche, senza condimento oppure con olio d'oliva, sale e pepe. [Robiola is eaten fresh, without seasoning or with olive oil, salt and pepper.]

Media related to Olea europaea in Switzerland at Wikimedia Commons