Malta’s olives are famous the world over. Towns are named after the glorious olive fruit, and the oil that it produces is central to the Mediterranean diet.
Maltese olives are robust and resistant. While about ten cultivars can be found in Malta, only four can be called endemic – the Bidni, the Malti, the Maltese wild oleaster, and the White Olive or ‘Perla Maltese’.
The white olive tree was found to be nearly extinct in Malta, but there are people like Sam Cremona in his Wardija olive nursery who are working hard at growing the amount of white olives in Malta.
“To tell you the truth,” says Sam, “when I saw it the first times I thought it was damaged. Why are these olives white? The Italians told us it might be ‘albino’, but later we learned that these olives were popular in the times of the Knights, and even were exported. We looked after this tree, it had no disease and viruses and we took the first vaccination from it”.
Jamie Oliver even visited Sam’s olive nursery, where he called Sam the “Godfather of Maltese olive oil” and wondered if Maltese olive oil is the best in the world.
When Jamie Oliver saw Sam’s white olive tree, he said the olives were of “of such pearlescent beauty that it would have seemed a crime to pick them.”
“They would make great oil,” replied Sam, “but we have so few that it simply would not be worth it.”
The problem is the rarity of the white olive tree. Sam is promoting vaccinations of the white olive trees to increase their presence in Malta.
“The Italians said they produce the best olive oil, but I think the Maltese environment allows for a greater and fruitier return,” says Sam. “Our sun and longer maturation period are optimal, even for Italian varieties like Frantoio.”
When asked why he had dedicated his life to olives, olive oil, and cultivating the Perla Maltesa – he used to be a gemologist, dealing in diamonds – his answer is simple.
“I’m looking for a health product, primarily. I want to increase the culture,” he says clearly, “I want to make Malta green again through the planting of olive trees. Something that generates money nationally, makes the general appearance of the country better, and is a local product. I’ve been doing my best to save the environment; but if the environment is to be saved, it must come from the citizens. The politicians are ready to sell their own mothers and wives out, ahseb u ara what they’d do with the environment.”