The basilico genovese DOP
Basil has been grown in Italy since antiquity, both as an ornamental plant and as a source of therapeutic essential oil. It is believed that the Romans first brought the basil plant into the country for its supposed medicinal qualities.
Today basil is best known for its culinary uses, rather than for the therapeutic properties attributed to it by herbalists and healers in the past. Think of Genoese pesto sauce, the specialty of the Liguria region which is one of the most famous Italian pasta sauces, and the obvious main ingredient is basil.
The classic recipe for pesto calls for the ingredients – mostly basil, plus pine nuts, grated cheese, garlic and olive oil – to be pounded into a paste with a mortar and pestle made of wood, marble or glass.
Traditionally, basil from Liguria’s Tyrrhenian coast was preferred for it’s intense flavor, with a pleasant scent but with no trace of mint. This particular variety was desired so much that one cookbook from 1824 calls specifically for the use of Genoa basil in a number of its recipes.
An official agricultural survey from 1883 shows that in order to meet the rising demand for this variety, small greenhouses were commonly used along the Ligurian Riviera to increase yields. Historically basil from Genoa had been grown in the immediate vicinity of the city, but as demand spread outward from the local regions, the production area spread well beyond too.