Workshop in Croatia Highlights Award-Winning Olive Oils

During a guided tasting, attendees learned what makes Dalmatian extra virgin olive oil stand out at the World Competition.
Mirela Žanetić leads a workshop in Split, Croatia
By Nedjeljko Jusup
May. 31, 2023 12:56 UTC

Olive oil pro­duc­ers took part in a work­shop at the IX fes­ti­val in Split, Croatia’s sec­ond-largest city, to dis­cuss the fac­tors behind the suc­cess of Dalmatian oils on the global stage.

The fes­ti­val, which cel­e­brates locally-pro­duced wine, olive oil, sheep cheese, pro­sciutto and other tra­di­tional foods, was held in the wine cel­lars of Diocletian’s Palace, built by the Roman emperor 1,700 years ago.

(The NYIOOC awards) encour­aged (Dalmatian grow­ers) because now they too are start­ing to receive the finan­cial sup­port that olive grow­ers from Istria have had for a long time.- Mirela Žanetić, qual­ity con­trol, Institute of Adriatic Culture

Seven of the 55 Dalmatian extra vir­gin olive oils awarded at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition were at the work­shop.

It’s not an overnight suc­cess,” said work­shop leader Mirela Žanetić, a well-known researcher from the Institute of Adriatic Culture in Split spe­cial­iz­ing in olive oil qual­ity con­trol and a local sen­sory analy­sis insti­tute panel leader.

See Also:The Best Croatian EVOOs

Olive grow­ing has always existed in Dalmatia,” she added. It is passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, so it is dif­fi­cult to change tra­di­tional habits in the cul­ti­va­tion and pro­cess­ing of olives.”

And the tem­pera­ments of Dalmatians are usu­ally a bit more stub­born than the karst soils in which their olives grow,” she joked.

It took time for farm­ers to start think­ing about what they do as a pro­fes­sion, a change that began 15 to 20 years ago.

Now, many advo­cates in the region believe olives are receiv­ing the recog­ni­tion and treat­ment they deserve, with olive grow­ing on an unde­ni­able upward tra­jec­tory.

This has been demon­strated by a grow­ing num­ber of young peo­ple restor­ing aban­doned fam­ily olive groves and plant­ing new ones.

Young peo­ple are inter­ested in the com­bi­na­tion of vari­eties and want to know every­thing about the oil they will pro­duce. They increas­ingly rely on sci­en­tific research to guide their deci­sion-mak­ing and apply agrotech­ni­cal mea­sures from prun­ing, fer­til­iza­tion and crop pro­tec­tion to timely har­vest­ing, olive pro­cess­ing and olive oil stor­age.

Young farm­ers have also been the dri­ving force behind draw­ing num­bers of pro­duc­ers enter­ing local and inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions to demon­strate their progress rel­a­tive to their peers around the olive oil-pro­duc­ing world.

The mete­oric rise of Croatian extra vir­gin olive oil on the world stage began three years ago when pro­duc­ers in Dalmatia and Istria, the country’s largest olive oil-pro­duc­ing regions, worked together to send a record num­ber of entries to New York.

Croatian pro­duc­ers won 87 awards at the 2021 NYIOOC. Only Italy, Spain and Greece earned more awards than Croatia, which is home to slightly less than 4 mil­lion peo­ple.

We were fourth,” said Tomislav Duvnjak, the young entre­pre­neur and award-win­ning pro­ducer behind Vodice DOO. He led the effort in Dalmatia to sam­ple local extra vir­gin olive oils and raise funds to sub­mit them to the NYIOOC.

Encouraged by this suc­cess, local orga­ni­za­tions, county gov­ern­ments and regional cham­bers of com­merce began to par­tic­i­pate by co-financ­ing the costs, which gave the Dalmatian olive groves an addi­tional boost.

It encour­aged them because now they too are start­ing to receive the finan­cial sup­port that olive grow­ers from Istria have had for a long time,” Žanetić said.


Increasing regional coop­er­a­tion bore fruit at the 2022 NYIOOC, where Croatian pro­duc­ers earned 96 awards, only behind the olive-grow­ing super­pow­ers of Italy and Spain.

To put this suc­cess into con­text, Croatia has 19,000 hectares of olive groves with annual olive oil pro­duc­tion of less than 5,000 tons. Meanwhile, Spain is home to 2.6 mil­lion hectares and pro­duces an aver­age of 1.3 mil­lion tons.

At the 2023 NYIOOC, Croatian pro­duc­ers earned a record-high 105 awards, with Dalmatian pro­duc­ers con­tribut­ing 55. Once again, only Italy and Spain earned more awards.

Until the very end of the com­pe­ti­tion, we were sec­ond, and then Spain over­took us by win­ning one more award,” Duvnjak said.

Žanetić added that based on suc­cess rate, the num­ber of awards divided by entries, Croatia was the most suc­cess­ful coun­try that sub­mit­ted more than 10 extra vir­gin olive oils.

Back in the mar­ble cel­lars of Diocletian’s palace, many fes­ti­val vis­i­tors were also con­vinced of the qual­ity of Dalmatian oils.

At a spe­cial work­shop, Žanetić pre­sented the seven award-win­ning Dalmatian oils: St. Ivan Vodice from Vodice, Laurenta from OPG Živković, Kota from Nadin, Clavis from OPG Glavina, Fortica from OPG Vlatkovic, Garden of Eden from TO Zvir on the island of Hvar and Zlatna Šoltanka, a coop­er­a­tive of 20 grow­ers from the island of Šolta.

All these oils are extremely har­mo­nious, com­plex and per­sis­tent,” said Žanetić, pre­sent­ing them at the work­shop. They are per­sis­tent and sta­ble as their fla­vor stays in the mouth long after tast­ing.

During the tast­ing, Žanetić also answered ques­tions about the secret of the suc­cess of Dalmatian oils.

The secret is in the unique ter­roir (soil and land that empha­size the taste and smell of the native region where the oil is pro­duced) and the autochtho­nous olive vari­eties,” she said.


Mirella Žanetić

Many award-win­ning oils fea­tured the Oblica olive vari­ety, which tol­er­ates extremely dry weather well. This vari­ety pro­duced healthy fruits with excel­lent fer­til­ity even after the drought dur­ing the 2022/23 crop year.

In these dry con­di­tions, no dis­eases, espe­cially pea­cock’s eye, or pests, such as the olive fruit fly, which usu­ally cause exten­sive dam­age. Each female lays 50 eggs, one in each fruit.

Due to their rapid repro­duc­tion rate, an olive fruit fly infes­ta­tion can destroy an entire crop. Infected fruits fall off even before oil pro­duc­tion begins, so the dam­age is prac­ti­cally incal­cu­la­ble if this pest is not con­trolled in time, experts warn.

Despite the drought, last sea­son was ulti­mately bet­ter than expected. What was har­vested healthy and imme­di­ately processed was of top qual­ity, which is espe­cially evi­dent in Oblica, which in dry con­di­tions, when phe­nols increase, acquires more pro­nounced aro­mas, bit­ter­ness and spici­ness.

Of the seven oils awarded at the NYIOOC 2023 pre­sented at the work­shop, three were mono­va­ri­etal Oblicas, and one was a blend of Oblica and Levantinka.

Ahead of the 2023/24 crop year, Žanetić said, the fore­casts are ungrate­ful,” with heavy rains and flood­ing dam­ag­ing some olive trees as they began to blos­som.

However, pro­duc­ers remain opti­mistic that the olives that will grow will yield high-qual­ity oil once again.

We will send even more sam­ples to New York than last year and achieve even greater suc­cess,” said Duvnjak, the unof­fi­cial selec­tor of Dalmatian olive oil.

Putting aside the domes­tic rivalry between Istria and Dalmatia, Duvnjak said, of all Dalmatian and Istrian oils, Croatian oils are the best.”


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