Europe

Museum of Istrian Olive Oil Opens in Pula, Croatia

A museum dedicated to the history and development of olive oil in the Croatian region of Istria opened recently in the city of Pula.

Jun. 21, 2017
By Isabel Putinja

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Located in the center of Pula just a short walk away from a first-cen­tury Roman amphithe­ater, its offi­cial Latin name, Museum Olei Histriae, trans­lates as the Museum of Istrian olive oil.

The museum is a labor of love and the brain­child of Pula-native Lorena Boljunčić, an art his­to­rian, mar­ket­ing spe­cial­ist, and entre­pre­neur who’s active in the local tourism indus­try. She fell under the spell of olive oil seven years ago when she took her fam­i­ly’s olive crop to the local mill and tasted the freshly-pressed oil fresh straight from the press.

This expe­ri­ence was the cat­a­lyst for the museum, an endeavor that has been solely financed through the pri­vate means of her com­pany, Idea Istria. It’s sur­pris­ing that such an ini­tia­tive that’s so rel­e­vant to the region’s local his­tory and gas­tron­omy hasn’t received mate­r­ial sup­port from local or regional author­i­ties.

“This is the only museum of its kind in Croatia,” Boljunčić told Olive Oil Times. “I was inspired by a visit to a whiskey museum in Edinburgh’s old city that told the story of whiskey by cov­er­ing its his­tory and pro­duc­tion process fol­lowed by a tast­ing ses­sion. I thought this would be a good model to follow for the museum.”

Covering an area of 500 square meters (5382 square feet), the pleas­ant light-filled space hous­ing the museum includes a shop, exhi­bi­tion space, kids’ corner and tast­ing room.

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The per­ma­nent exhi­bi­tion covers the his­tor­i­cal back­ground to the 2000-year-old his­tory of olive oil making in Istria, as well as insights into the local man­u­fac­tur­ing of amphorae, the evo­lu­tion of the olive oil pro­duc­tion process from ancient to modern times, and even details about the taxes and duties imposed on local pro­duc­ers during the time of the Venetian Republic.

Visitors also learn about the sci­en­tific com­po­si­tion of olive oil as well as its health ben­e­fits, includ­ing the chem­i­cal and sen­sory prop­er­ties that are eval­u­ated to deter­mine the qual­ity of an olive oil. “When design­ing the exhi­bi­tion I researched the his­tory of olive making in Istria and got impor­tant inputs from experts from the Institute for Agriculture and Tourism in Poreč where they have a lab for analy­sis. I talked to their experts and they gave me details about the com­po­si­tion of olive oil and para­me­ters like free fatty acids. I also con­tacted local muse­ums to see if they had any objects related to olive oil,” added Boljunčić.

The infor­ma­tion panels and graph­ics making up the exhi­bi­tion are pre­sented in Croatian, Italian, English, and German, and the exhibit is com­ple­mented by an audio guide avail­able in 12 lan­guages (Croatian, English, Spanish, Italian, Slovenian, French, German, Russian, Czech, Polish, Hungarian, and Dutch).

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Also making up the exhi­bi­tion are sev­eral visual aspects: objects like clay amphora and var­i­ous para­pher­na­lia used in olive oil making, a short film on Istria as an olive pro­duc­ing region, and a graph­i­cal instal­la­tion set up in a small dark room designed to resem­ble an exist­ing but now defunct local 19th-cen­tury oil mill. Inside, a short film shot in the mill in the 1980s is pro­jected, show­ing the ancient oil press­ing tech­nique in which olives are ground with a mill­stone and then pressed using a wooden con­trap­tion.

Included in the price of the entry ticket is a basic olive oil tast­ing ses­sion during which sev­eral qual­ity local oils are sam­pled as well as a super­mar­ket oil for com­par­i­son. In charge of the tast­ing ses­sions is Lena Puhar O’Grady, an olive oil expert trained in sen­sory analy­sis. Complemented by an attrac­tively designed PowerPoint pre­sen­ta­tion, she intro­duces vis­i­tors to the qual­i­ties to look for in a qual­ity olive oil, while shar­ing inter­est­ing facts. “Istrian olive oil is very low in free fatty acids,” she revealed. “It’s less than 0.1 per­cent, lower than the stan­dard set by the International Olive Council which is a min­i­mum of 0.8.”

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Following the basic tast­ing ses­sion, vis­i­tors who want to expand their knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence of Istrian olive oil can opt to taste five more local oils for a small extra cost. All of the tast­ing oils are avail­able at the muse­um’s shop where there are a total of 25 high-qual­ity olive oils by local pro­duc­ers on dis­play, all inter­na­tional award win­ners.

For the muse­um’s founder, the edu­ca­tional aspect is par­tic­u­larly impor­tant and is designed to be acces­si­ble to all ages: the museum has already wel­comed school groups from a local kinder­garten and middle school. Boljunčić hopes that her ini­tia­tive will serve not only as an impor­tant edu­ca­tional tool but will also encour­age vis­i­tors to explore the world of olive oil fur­ther. “I would like the museum to be a kind of a point of first infor­ma­tion that gives vis­i­tors an overview of the his­tory of olive pro­duc­tion in Istria and its devel­op­ment to the present day,” she explained. “They can also have the expe­ri­ence of tast­ing dif­fer­ent olive oils by qual­ity local pro­duc­ers. Then those who want to explore fur­ther can visit these pro­duc­ers, meet them and have a tour of their groves.”

As Croatia’s only olive oil museum, Museum Olei Histriae also promises to be an impor­tant tourist attrac­tion show­cas­ing Istria’s impor­tance as an olive grow­ing region. Since it opened its doors on May 9, 2017, the museum has already had many inter­na­tional vis­i­tors from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US, and sev­eral European coun­tries.