The small Istrian town of Vodnjan hosted the ninth New Olive Oil Days this week. This year’s event was visited by very many olive oil lovers who, during the three days, had the opportunity to taste new extra virgin olive oils, attend specialized lectures, taste top-quality gastronomy delights and, for the first time this year, take part in culinary workshops.

Apart from 80 olive oil producers who presented some 200 samples of new olive oil from the 2013 harvest and other indigenous products, this year’s New Olive Oil Days were marked by the participation of numerous cooks, chefs, catering providers, restaurants, taverns, students attending tourism management and catering schools and many other visitors from the area of Istria and the Kvarner Gulf. They prepared over 8,000 fish dishes (by Cromaris) and Boškarin (Istrian cattle)-based dishes (by AZRRI) with the emphasis on new olive oil during a special culinary showcase.

The Oil Bar gave the opportunity to all interested visitors to assess the quality of olive oil, depending on the type, ranging from mild sorts to those bitingly spicy. Among other things, one could learn that the most important thing was to balance spicy and fruity flavors by preserving crucial freshness of herbs or olives in the first scent of the oil. Guided olive oil tastings were organized for visitors who wanted to learn more about the assessment process.

The educational part of the program included a number of lectures whose aim was to improve and support competitiveness and development of olive oil producers. Dr. Mario Bjeliš introduced olive oil producers to bio-ecological characteristics of the olive fruit pest curculio (Rhynchites cribripennis). Dr. Davorin Bažulić held a lecture titled “Waste Management in Production and Processing of Olives.” On Sunday, visiting lecturer Luigi Caricato, the Italian oleologist, presented the topic titled “Extra Virgin Oil at Your Dining Table: Recommendations for Use.”

This year, a novelty was introduced to the gastronomic and educational part of the program: workshops by the Little Academy of the LF Catering, which represented a truly new trend at the New Olive Oil Days, which allowed visitors to acquire new skills and knowledge in preparing pasta, rice, chocolate, olive oil, steaks and marinades.

“So, Which Olive Oil?” was a title of another interesting workshop organized during the event in Vodnjan. LF Catering brought together an interesting mix of oenologists, gastronomic and oil experts who were assigned the following task: for one fish dish, one meat dish and one sweet dish they had to find an ideal “match” among six olive oils produced in the area of Vodnjanština.

As evident from the title of the overall event, all the olive oils offered were new or young, i.e. made from 2013 harvest. Local association “Agroturist” was in charge of selection of oils that were used in the workshop. The following oils were selected: Buža, Karbonaca, Istrian bjelica, Žižolera, Rožinjola and a mixture (blend) of Leccino, Pendolino and an indigenous sort which the oil producer wanted to keep secret. Also, names of oil producers and oil mills whose oils were tasted were kept secret until the very end; they were revealed only after the jury announced the winners.

For purposes of such “blind tasting” meals were prepared by chef Robert Perić. The jury was composed of: Dušan Černjul, the owner of the Velanera hotel at Šišan, Franko Lukež, gastronome from Pula, Pino Kuhar, cookery teacher from Žminj, Denis Ivošević, director of the Istria Tourist Board, Giorgio Clain, wine maker from Krasica, Gino Celletti and Claudio Ipša and Livio Cissara, oil producers from Ipši and Vodnjan, respectively.

The flounder fillet was the first dish served. The organizers had previously agreed that thermal processing should be used to a minimum degree and that no spices should be added to the dishes being served, so that the prominent taste was that of olive oil. Tender flounder, only slightly oven baked, goes well with Rožinjola and Istrian bjelica from the 2013 harvest, however, it is best served with Rožinjola. In other words, the flounder fillet and this year’s Rožinjola were proclaimed the first perfect match at the ninth New Olive Oil Days in Vodnjan.

Following the flounder fillet, the jury was then served a medium rare sliced steak, tagliata, made from a four-year-old Istrian cattle boškarin, prepared at 64° C, juicy and evenly pink when sliced. The jury decided that its perfect match was this year’s Istrian bjelica, and we must emphasize here once again – this year’s. So, Istrian boškarin likes the Istrian bjelica! The decision was made for these reasons: firstly, the strong bitter flavor and medium spicy note of this oil are perfectly blended with meat juices and secondly, the majority of the jury members stressed that, of all olive oils tasted, the Istrian bjelica had the most prominent aftertaste.

Finally, the dessert: Tender and not too sweet “cocoa and almond soufflé”, as the chef Perić dubbed his chocolate soufflé, called for an olive oil with less prominent taste and bitter notes. This type of pairing proved to be most difficult and the jury could not decide among three types of olive oils: Rožinjola and blend of Leccino and Pendolino were considered, but Karbonaca “won” and was thus proclaimed a perfect match for this dazzling dessert.

Next year, we will celebrate the tenth anniversary of this event when the town of Vodnjan will host the tenth New Olive Oil Days.

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