One of the Gold Award win­ners announced last month at the New York International Olive Oil Competition (NYIOOC) was a robust Šoltanka, made from an indige­nous olive vari­ety also known as Levantinka that grows on the Croatian island of Šolta. This prize win­ner hap­pened to be a joint entry to the com­pe­ti­tion sub­mit­ted by an asso­ci­a­tion of olive oil pro­duc­ers from this rocky Adriatic island located in the cen­tral Dalmatian arch­i­pel­ago.

I had the feel­ing that I should watch the live stream. I thought I was dream­ing when at mid­night I heard, and I knew this could be some­thing very impor­tant for our island.- Zlatko Burić, pres­i­dent of Zlatna Šoltanka

A joint entry by an asso­ci­a­tion of pro­duc­ers was a unique ini­tia­tive. Zlatko Burić, the pres­i­dent of Zlatna Šoltanka (Golden Šoltanka), the offi­cial name of the asso­ci­a­tion, told Olive Oil Times about the ratio­nale behind its cre­ation:

“Olive grow­ers on Šolta are small fam­ily farms that do not have enough olive oil or the finan­cial capac­ity to enter the mar­ket on a large scale. But together, we are capa­ble of cov­er­ing a wider mar­ket,” Burić noted. Named after its indige­nous olive vari­ety, Zlatna Šoltanka was cre­ated in 2011 and today has 20 mem­bers, all of whom are small fam­ily pro­duc­ers grow­ing olives and pro­duc­ing oil on the island.
See more: This year’s best olive oils from Croatia
In October 2016, olive oil from Šolta received Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) at the EU level under the appel­la­tion “Šoltansko masli­novo ulje” (Solta olive oil), thanks to the hard work of Zlatna Šoltanka who pre­pared the appli­ca­tion and sub­mit­ted it to the European Commission. PDO sta­tus affirms that the oil was pro­duced, processed and pre­pared in a spe­cific geo­graph­i­cal area accord­ing to cer­tain qual­ity require­ments.

Zlatna Šoltanka, how­ever, is going a step fur­ther with the asso­ci­a­tion’s focus now on pro­duc­ing a supe­rior qual­ity olive oil that goes above and beyond the “extra vir­gin olive oil” appel­la­tion.

“One of the cur­rent goals of the asso­ci­a­tion is to ensure that more olive grow­ers on the island switch to organic pro­duc­tion and that the pro­duc­tion of olive oil here is of the high­est pos­si­ble qual­ity,” explained Burić.

“It was on the Olive Oil Times web­site that we learned about the efforts of a group of experts and olive grow­ers who founded the inter­na­tional Association 3E. We agree with their view that the cat­e­gory ‘extra vir­gin’ is often com­pro­mised and largely abused. Golden Šoltanka aims to place only ‘super pre­mium’ olive oils on the mar­ket. That is why we will con­nect with other regions in Croatia and with other asso­ci­a­tions and pro­duc­ers world­wide to join our efforts in intro­duc­ing this supe­rior class of olive oil.”

With such high stan­dards, it’s not sur­pris­ing that Šoltanka was awarded gold. At least 50 per­cent of this organic extra vir­gin olive oil is made with Šoltanka olives, as well as another indige­nous Dalmatian olive vari­ety called Oblica. In keep­ing with tra­di­tional tech­niques, Šolta’s olive grow­ers hand pick the fruits which are then processed into oil and bot­tled on the island in order to guar­an­tee authen­tic­ity and a uni­form high-​quality oil.

Every olive oil afi­cionado knows that like good wine, ter­roir is inte­gral to the mak­ing of a qual­ity oil. The island’s rocky lime­stone, mineral-​rich soil, and local flora add to the oil’s char­ac­ter, as well as its cli­mate of hot and dry sum­mers, expo­sure to the north­ern Bura wind, and low rain­fall.

According to Burić, the secret ingre­di­ents to high-​quality oil is also a lot of metic­u­lous and painstak­ing work and a good dose of TLC: “Šolta’s inhab­i­tants are in love with their olives. They have a long tra­di­tion in the cul­ti­va­tion of olive trees and the pro­duc­tion of olive oil. Olive trees on Šolta grow on rocky ter­rain with lit­tle fer­tile soil and the use of mech­a­niza­tion is impos­si­ble, so every­thing from cul­ti­va­tion to har­vest­ing is done with small man­ual tools.”

“Only this way is each tree a ‘per­son­al­ity,’ ” Burić added. “The olive grower talks to it and knows exactly when it needs help and what it’s miss­ing. The same is true when it comes to the har­vest. Each fruit passes through the grow­ers’ hands sev­eral times: when picked from the tree, col­lected in the bucket, and while remov­ing dry leaves and twigs. Damaged or rot­ten fruits are imme­di­ately dis­carded, and only healthy, juicy fruits remain. Oil derived from such fruits is noth­ing like the oils sold by super­mar­ket chains and can’t be sold under the same name. Unfortunately, only a small num­ber of con­sumers know the dif­fer­ence between the two and the major­ity con­sumes cheap oil from the super­mar­ket.”

Things have been mov­ing fast since their first inter­na­tional award at NYIOOC, with recog­ni­tion com­ing from all quar­ters. “Since our olive oil has been rec­og­nized as one of the best olive oils in the world, we’ve been get­ting daily phone calls from other olive grow­ers want­ing to join our asso­ci­a­tion,” Burić revealed.

“Although I was exhausted after a busy day, I had the feel­ing that I should watch the live stream­ing of the win­ners of the com­pe­ti­tion in New York. I thought I was dream­ing when at mid­night I heard: ‘Association Golden Šoltanka: Gold Award!’ I screamed with joy! I knew this could be some­thing very impor­tant for our island. Ten min­utes later, an e‑mail from Germany arrived: a gourmet food importer and world­wide dis­trib­u­tor wants to work with us. The next day a fam­ily from Utah ordered 12 bot­tles. And we’ve been get­ting phone calls and emails from guests com­ing to Šolta this sum­mer who want to reserve our oil as they right­fully fear that it will sell out before their arrival.”

Thanks to their big win in New York, the future of Golden Šoltanka cer­tainly looks golden, and Burić is con­vinced that the asso­ci­a­tion’s suc­cess will encour­age com­pe­ti­tion among local pro­duc­ers to improve the qual­ity and quan­tity of their oil. This suc­cess­ful exam­ple of coop­er­a­tion can also be an inspi­ra­tion for other small pro­duc­ers to join forces and work together to cre­ate and pro­mote a supe­rior cat­e­gory of olive oil.



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