Business

Croatians' Pursuit of Quality Pays Off at NYIOOC

Croatian olive oil producers won a record 22 awards at NYIOOC 2017. Some of this year's winners shared their reactions and what the international recognition means for them.

Marija Vareško and her family resurrected the groves of their ancestors in south Istria and created the brand Dolija.
May. 6, 2017
By Isabel Putinja
Marija Vareško and her family resurrected the groves of their ancestors in south Istria and created the brand Dolija.

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Compared with many other European olive oil-pro­duc­ing coun­tries who suf­fered poor har­vests during the recently con­cluded crop season, most pro­duc­ers in Croatia fared much better and many even reported a bumper crop.

A prize like this one can help pro­mote our coun­try and its trea­sures.- Dimitri Brečević, Clai

Results of the 2017 New York International Olive Oil Competition (NYIOOC) brought more good news for Croatian olive oil, with pro­duc­ers win­ning a record 22 awards, a huge improve­ment to the nine awards won last year. The 22 awards included 13 Gold, seven Silver, and two Best in Class Awards.

Most of Croatia’s pro­duc­ers of extra virgin olive oil are small family-run busi­nesses that strictly follow tra­di­tional meth­ods. Olives are picked by hand and pressed within 24 hours to ensure high qual­ity, and an increas­ing number of pro­duc­ers are using organic farm­ing meth­ods. Close to half of this year’s prize win­ners are organic pro­duc­ers.
See more: The Best Croatian Olive Oils for 2017
Four of the award win­ning oils hail from the Dalmatian coast, and three from the islands. Notable is the joint entry by the asso­ci­a­tion of olive pro­duc­ers of the island of Šolta: an organic extra virgin olive oil which won them gold.



 



Žižanj is another island pro­ducer to receive gold for their organic blend pro­duced on an island of the same name. This tiny island off the Dalmatian coast is only acces­si­ble by boat and is home to the 665 olive trees owned by Roman Urbanija and his family.

Urbanija told Olive Oil Times that he found out about the award on Friday morn­ing when he checked the results on the Internet. “This is the first time we par­tic­i­pated in NYIOOC and we are really happy to receive a gold award,” he said. “Of course, we were sure of the superb qual­ity of our oil and the result is always one of high-qual­ity extra virgin olive oil. Despite this, it’s very impor­tant for us to have experts taste our oil, and when they give us this result, we can only be happy that our hard work has been rewarded.”

Eighteen of Croatia’s 22 awards went to pro­duc­ers in Istria, Croatia’s west­ern­most region, a penin­sula tucked in the Adriatic Sea. Olive oil from Istria has received a lot of atten­tion in the past few years.

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The two olive oils to win Best in Class awards are both pro­duced in Istria. M’ Olive Oil won Best in Class for North Hemisphere del­i­cate, while Vergal Frantoio was judged the best North Hemisphere mono­va­ri­etal del­i­cate. The latter is pro­duced by Aminess hotel group in Novigrad, north­west­ern Istria, an unlikely but clearly excep­tional pro­ducer.

Mladen Knežević, sales and mar­ket­ing direc­tor for the group revealed that this was the first time their Vergal Frantoio was entered in a com­pe­ti­tion: “In pre­vi­ous years we par­tic­i­pated in smaller com­pe­ti­tions, mainly in Istria and Italy, where our oil was awarded a cer­tifi­cate of excep­tional qual­ity. We are extremely happy and proud to win Best in Class at NYIOOC 2017, but we can’t say it was unex­pected.”

“From the very begin­ning, we set a clear goal for Vergal Frantoio to become a rec­og­niz­able brand of pre­mium extra virgin olive oil and we have been invest­ing heav­ily in the entire pro­duc­tion process for years. Until now, Vergal Frantoio was only avail­able for pur­chase in our hotels and camps, so this achieve­ment is an incen­tive for us to widen dis­tri­b­u­tion,” Knežević said.

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Two Istrian pro­duc­ers also won two awards each: Agroprodukt took two golds for its Salvela Aurum and Salvela Buza, while Stancija San Antonio received a gold for their Karbonaca, and a Silver for its Buza Zenska Vodnjanska.

Marijan Marjanović of the family-owned Stancija San Antonio was watch­ing the results live online from his home in Vodnjan, south Istria. He told us this was not the first time his organic oil has won mul­ti­ple awards at the same com­pe­ti­tion: “At NYIOOC 2013, all four oils we entered won awards: three golds and one silver, and we have won over 20 awards in the last four years. But by win­ning at NYIOOC, we prove to our­selves that we are pro­duc­ing a good prod­uct that the world’s top tasters have rated among the best.”

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Meanwhile in Zurich, Switzerland, Daniel Bellani of Terra Rossa was also eagerly watch­ing results despite the late hour in Europe. “I was watch­ing the live broad­cast online while my father and grand­fa­ther back in Istria were already sleep­ing,” Bellani told Olive Oil Times. “When I real­ized after mid­night that we won gold again, I was so excited that I sent my father a WhatsApp mes­sage. As for my 94-year-old grand­fa­ther, he heard the good news the next morn­ing and cel­e­brated by putting on a suit and posing for pic­tures with my father and a bottle of our oil.”

Monte Rosso in northern Istria is celebrating a Gold Award at NYIOOC

For this three-gen­er­a­tion family pro­ducer of organic extra virgin olive oil, this was not the first time achiev­ing suc­cess at NYIOOC. “This is the third year in a row that we’ve won awards at NYIOOC,” said Bellani. “It takes a lot of effort to make a very good olive oil. But when I see the joy it gives us and what incred­i­ble feed­back we get from our friends, cus­tomers and family, this moti­vates me to con­tinue our work to pro­duce an authen­tic and honest olive oil.”

Last year it was silver, but this year Slaven Deležan of Monte Rosso in north­ern Istria is cel­e­brat­ing a Gold Award at NYIOOC. “It’s a really great feel­ing to get a Gold at NYIOOC and we’re very proud of it,” he shared. “Such an award is impor­tant for us because firstly it shows the world what we can do. Also, this is proof that we’re on the right track and pro­gress­ing every year. And of course, this is also great pro­mo­tion for us in the global sense, because it makes us vis­i­ble to lovers of the high­est qual­ity olive oil all over the world, which for a new brand and new pro­ducer is really a mark of suc­cess beyond all expec­ta­tions.”

The Zanini family in Banjole at Istria’s south­ern­most tip had an excel­lent har­vest and the news that their Nonno Bruno oil won a Gold at NYIOOC, after a Silver in 2016 and Gold Awards in 2014 and 2015, con­firmed that it’s been a great season.

“We are very proud because this means we are one of the best pro­duc­ers of olive oil in the world,” said Davor Zanini about the award, “but the most impor­tant thing for us is qual­ity, not quan­tity. We press our oil in our own mill, and store it in opti­mal con­di­tions. Also, for us, it’s very impor­tant to learn some­thing new. That’s why we try to attend as many edu­ca­tional sem­i­nars as we can. Basically, for us, the most impor­tant thing is to grow in qual­ity and not quan­tity.”

For another family-run pro­ducer in Bale, South Istria, it was first time lucky. Tea Cergna and her family expe­ri­enced the thrill of win­ning a Gold Award after com­pet­ing in NYIOOC for the first time. “Even though it was already pretty late in Croatia when the win­ners were announced, we were fol­low­ing the awards live,” she recounted. “When we saw that Perdisacca won gold, we started to enthu­si­as­ti­cally text and call each other to share the news.”

Gold Award winner Perdisacca

“We con­sider this Gold Award as the Oscar for extra virgin olive oil pro­duc­ers. NYOOC is highly esteemed as a com­pe­ti­tion, the panel of judges is very pro­fes­sional and, let’s be honest, it opens a lot of doors. Having been part of many com­pe­ti­tions so far, we can say for sure that NYIOOC has the best logis­tics as far as the process for send­ing in oil sam­ples goes. Kudos also for the live stream­ing of the award cer­e­mony.”

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It was also Gold for first-time NYIOOC par­tic­i­pants Clai, pro­duc­ers of high-qual­ity olive and wine for the past 25 years in the white clay earth of Krasica in north­ern Istria. Dimitri Brečević, Clai’s man­ager, sees the win as recog­ni­tion of their hard work, and pointed out that in order to achieve qual­ity, their focus was on “organic pro­duc­tion from the begin­ning, as it’s the only way we know to reach per­fec­tion and create excel­lent prod­ucts, but also prac­tice sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture.”

Brečević also sees the award as much-needed recog­ni­tion for Croatian olive oils: “Olive oil from Croatia is not so well known even though the qual­ity is excel­lent, so a prize like this one can help pro­mote our coun­try and its trea­sures. The cul­ture of olive oil in Istria is a few thou­sand years old and we’re proud to con­tinue this tra­di­tion.”

Another NYIOOC first-timer among this year’s Gold Award win­ners are Marija Vareško and her family, who res­ur­rected the groves of their ances­tors near Pula in south Istria almost ten years ago when they planted new olives along­side cen­turies-old trees and cre­ated the olive oil brand Dolija. This was the first time they entered their oil made with Bjelica, an indige­nous Istrian olive vari­ety, in a com­pe­ti­tion.

Marija Vareško and her family resurrected the groves of their ancestors in south Istria and created the brand Dolija.

Vareško shared her reac­tion: “I’m very happy we won a gold award. I just could­n’t believe my eyes and kept check­ing the web­site to make sure we really won. When I told the rest of the family and the friends who help us with har­vest­ing year after year, they were thrilled. An award from NYIOOC is the great­est con­fir­ma­tion of our work. This is also a reward for our ances­tors whose legacy we con­tinue. Croatia is slowly and surely gain­ing recog­ni­tion year after year as a coun­try pro­duc­ing high-qual­ity extra virgin olive oil and we’re happy to be part of this.”

When Elena Lupić and her family checked results online on Friday morn­ing, they were pleased to see that their Rosignola vari­ety olive oil Bembo had won a Silver the night before in New York. Based in Bale, South Istria, the Lupić family had won sev­eral inter­na­tional awards, includ­ing a Gold at NYIOOC 2014, and a Silver at NYIOOC 2015. Lupić said the inter­na­tional award brings an added value com­pared to local com­pe­ti­tions because the olive oils being judged are among the best in the world: “Winning any kind of award is always some­thing spe­cial for us but this one will help in the pro­mo­tion of our olive oil.”

Meanwhile fur­ther north in the olive groves of Monte Cucco near Buje, Mili Kus is cel­e­brat­ing her first inter­na­tional award: a Silver for her organic Oliva Lucia extra virgin olive oil. After win­ning a few local awards, she decided it was time to set her sights higher: “Last year I won only one award but since this year my yield has increased three-fold, I decided to enter the New York com­pe­ti­tion,” she told Olive Oil Times.

The Lupić family farm in Bale, South Istria

“I heard about NYIOOC last year through the Olive Oil Times newslet­ter. I watched the open­ing remarks and pre­sen­ta­tions of the com­pe­ti­tion online and saw that the par­tic­i­pants were pro­duc­ers who looked like me, and not cor­po­rate tycoons dressed in designer suits, which was com­fort­ing.”

“I was too tired to watch the entire pro­ceed­ings but when I got up on Friday morn­ing,” Kus said, “the first thing I did was look at the NYIOOC web­site. I could­n’t believe it when I saw Oliva Lucia in the list of win­ners. Winning this award is the best feed­back and a great way to get brand recog­ni­tion as well as recog­ni­tion that all my hard work is paying off. Curtis Cord really nailed it on the head during his open­ing remarks when he said that years of hard work go into making a qual­ity oil. This really made me feel appre­ci­ated as a small pro­ducer.”

This record level of suc­cess for Croatian olive oils at NYIOOC, includ­ing two Best in Class awards, has fur­ther cemented Croatia’s place on the map of olive oil-pro­duc­ing coun­tries. Though Croatia is still a small pro­ducer that can’t com­pete with other European olive oil-making giants like Italy or Spain, it has proven that quan­tity is cer­tainly not every­thing and that con­sumers are increas­ingly look­ing for high qual­ity and authen­tic­ity when select­ing their olive oil. It is clearly Croatian pro­duc­ers’ focus on qual­ity and not quan­tity that is earn­ing them the inter­na­tional recog­ni­tion they deserve.