The Puhar O’Grady family looks forward to using their Olio Nuovo in a range of traditional Croatian Christmas dishes and celebrating a successful harvest.
The Puhar O’Grady family from Croatian Istria would have nothing against Gordon Ramsay, one of the world’s most famous chefs, cooking their Christmas day meal.
“Yes, but with our Olio Nuovo,” Lena Puhar O’Grady, co-owner of Brist in Vodnjan, told Olive Oil Times with a characteristic smile.
She and everyone else in the family business do not hide their satisfaction with this year’s harvest. “We will remember it for the excellent harvest, healthy fruit and unusually high yields,” Puhar said.
Despite the apprehension during the extremely dry summer months, the olive trees showed their resilience and, aided by the autumn rain that came at the right time in Istria, rewarded the olive growers with plenty.See Also:Producer Profiles
“The harvest took a little longer for us since we harvest by hand and transform the olives on the same day to preserve the integrity and freshness of the fruit as much as possible,” she said.
Brist’s story began 19 years ago when Lena’s father, Silvano Puhar, now 70, an electrical engineer, bought a neglected olive grove near Vodnjan. With a lot of effort, he revitalized the land and produced the first oil, which was awarded at local competitions.
After the initial success, he purchased more land, and now the olive groves include 2,500 trees on 10 hectares.
The entire family is involved in farming and the production process. Silvano is in charge of production, managing all operations in the olive grove and everything necessary to create award-winning olive oil.See Also:At Brist, It’s All in the Family
Lena, an archaeologist and art historian, is in charge of presentation, education and marketing. Her husband, Paul, an Irish ex-pat, manages retail and export.
“I also have to mention my mother, Ines, without whom any of this would have been possible,” Lena said.
Puhar uses her rare free moments to take a pre-holiday walk through the olive grove, which boasts breathtaking views over the Brijuni Islands.
It is Advent season, and the Vodnjan is adorned with Christmas decorations. People are in a hurry but still find time for short gatherings in the squares and streets, in restaurants where it is possible to taste cod and other holiday dishes made with an essential holiday season ingredient: extra virgin olive oil.
“Our monovarietal olive oil from autochthonous Buža and Blednovi has just arrived from the chemical and sensory analysis,” Lena and Paulo said. “The results are excellent. Low fatty acids, intense fruitiness, medium to intense spiciness and bitterness.”
“All oils are described as harmonious,” the couple added. “Harmonic. We are very satisfied, and the first impressions of our faithful and our new clients confirm this.”
They are convinced Ramsay would be satisfied with their olive oil this year. Perhaps even more satisfied than when he visited Istria two years ago and tried several classic Istrian delicacies for his National Geographic series, Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted.
During his visit, he praised the quality of Brist’s olive oils and used them for the dishes he prepared on the program, including crab and shrimp brudet, a traditional stew.
“I met Ramsay five minutes before the shoot, and we talked during the breaks,” Puhar said. “He is a great professional, extremely receptive and nice. He was genuinely delighted with our oils, which his assistant confirmed.”
She added that Ramsay stayed in Istria for four days during the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, he said, the production process behind the entire episode took place incognito.
“We had to sign a confidentiality agreement, and they contacted us directly, as well as all the other protagonists whose stories were particularly interesting,” Puhar said.
After the video aired on television, Brist olive oils became increasingly famous. Top chefs still praise them for their versatility.
The extra virgin olive oils are great for cooking at high temperatures and as a final seasoning for many dishes, from grilled fish and light salads to grilled meat and baked potatoes.
Some of these dishes, along with the indispensable cod, will be on the holiday menu for Christmas day at the Puhar O’Grady house and in many others across Istria and Croatia. “We’ll manage without Ramsay,” Puhar said.
The family is particularly happy at Christmas because it is their first break of the year after a busy olive growing and tourist season, including daily work with guests, tastings, guided tours of olive groves and picnics among the olive trees.
Immediately after the tourist season ended, the harvest arrived. After transformation, the oils had to be filtered. Finally, the bottles had to be filled and packaged, with orders being sent out to arrive at their destinations in time for the holidays.
“This year, we also exhibited at the Olio Nuovo days in Vodnjan, Istravirgin, and did several presentations of our Olio Nuovo, so we all need to rest and socialize in peace with our families,” Puhar said.
Christmas Eve in the Puhar O’Grady family is traditional. “In memory of our nuns who are no longer with us, we prepare homemade maneštra made of chickpeas and white cod,” Puhar said.
“Posutice, pasta topped with fried breadcrumbs, onions and anchovies, is prepared as a side dish, with greens, all abundantly flavored with the best Olio Nuovo,” she added.
“We are still arranging the Christmas lunch,” Puhar continued. “That part is left to my mom, who always prepares something new. What is mandatory is a plate of hearty meat soup and some roast.
After lunch, the family enjoys a panettone for dessert purchased from a local bakery. “We’ll add a few drops of green gold to the panettone, too,” Puhar concluded.