The number of Slovenian olive oil producers sending entries to the New York International Olive Oil Competition (NYIOOC) has been slowly increasing with each passing year.
NYIOOC 2019 saw eight oils from this small country participating in the competition and six recognized, with three Gold and three Silver Awards. This is the highest number awarded to Slovenian producers so far and one more than the five they took home at NYIOOC 2017.
We're very excited and so proud that our oil is among the best olive oils.
Sharing borders with Italy, Austria and Croatia (and a sliver with Hungary to the east), Slovenia is both a Mediterranean and Alpine country. It is also in the northern-most region of the Mediterranean where olives are cultivated.
This includes an area bordering Italy in western Slovenia and the hills of Istria, a peninsula in the Adriatic Sea. Growing here are Italian cultivars including Leccino, Maurino, Frantoio and Pendolino as well as varieties native to Istria, including Istrska Belica, Buga and Črnica.
See more: The Best Olive Oils from Slovenia
Slovenia has a very modest annual production at approximately 400 tons, but it makes up for this with the high quality of its oil.
Extra virgin olive oil from Slovenia has been recognized for its superior quality since 2007 when it was granted a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) at the European Union level.
Earlier this year, a multi-country PDO for olive oil produced in both the Slovenian and Croatian parts of the Istrian peninsula under the appellation “Istra” was registered.
The NYIOOC has seen entries from Slovenia only for the past four years. Two of this year’s winners have won awards for the third year running.
“We have participated for the last three years and as a result of our good work we were rewarded with Gold each year,” Marko Opašić, of Olje Morgan, told Olive Oil Times. “It’s always a good feeling when you are awarded, we were very happy.”
“Especially winning at a big competition, like the NYIOOC, where producers from all over the world are participating and the competition is strong,” he added. “It’s important for us because it shows that we’re on the right path to producing the highest quality organic olive oil deserving of Gold. Also, winning an award from NYIOOC helps us to promote Slovenian olive oil worldwide.”
The majority of the Morgan family’s groves are planted with the native Istrska belica but cultivars such as Leccino, Maurino, Moraiolo and Rosciola also grow here in the northern tip of Istria. That fact that their oil is produced organically is a matter of pride.
“Our oil is made with heart,” he said. “It’s organic, it has the right balance of bitterness and spiciness and is representative of our indigenous varieties. As we are not a giant producer we can focus on quality. We monitor our trees daily at all stages of growth until the olives reach the optimal maturity to produce the best olive oil.”
Another Gold went to the Bučinel family for their namesake Bučinel, a medium intense oil made from Briška drobnica, an indigenous cultivar from the region of Brda, tucked in between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea in western Slovenia.
The Bučinel family has already collected a slew of national and international awards and their high-quality oil is on the tables of restaurants across Europe and North America.
“This was our first time participating in NYIOOC,” Aleš Bučinel said. “We were pleasantly surprised. I think that a Gold Award from a competition like NYIOOC means that we are on the right path to success and that we should carry on doing what we love most: producing extra virgin olive oil and sharing it with those who are lucky enough to taste it.”
On the Bučinel farm, in the village of Gradno, grow not only olive groves but also fruit orchards and vineyards.
Bučinel explained why the cultivar native to his region is unique: “Briška drobnica is a very unique indigenous cultivar from the Goriška Brda region of Slovenia. The result is a very harmonious oil, of medium intensity, with pleasant fruitiness and medium bitterness and spiciness. Its special harmonious taste comes from the fact that trees struggle to survive here in the northern-most olive growing region.”
Hailing from the same region is the Sirk family who won Silver at NYIOOC 2019 for their Belica, a medium intense olive oil made of Istrska belica. The Sirk family has been producing wine and growing fruit for three generations, with the youngest generation, more recently branching out to olive oil production, with great results.
“This is our first time participating in NYIOOC,” Ivan Sirk said. “We were very satisfied that our oil won a very well-known award. It confirms that our work is done well and efficiently. It also confirms that our olive oil is one of great quality.”
The third Silver awarded to Slovenian producers went to the Jerebica family, and their organic Jerebica brand, a blend of Istrska belica, Leccino, Leccione and Pendolino olives.
The family’s olive farm is in Nova Vas, perched at almost 985 feet above sea level and close to the border with Croatia. Growing here, just nine miles from the sea, are groves of 200-year old olive trees as well as younger additions.
“In 2014, we won a Best in Class Award in the robust category for our blend,” Kristjan Jerebica said. “This year we decided to again to test our oil at NYIOOC, and we won a Silver Award in the medium category.”
“We’re very excited and so proud that our oil is among the best olive oils,” he added. “We produce only organic olives and extra virgin olive oil. Winning an award is very important to us because it confirms that our hard work was not wasted.”
Another multi-time winner at NYIOOC is Miha Jakovčič, who took a Silver for his Giuliana blend this year, and Golds in 2017 and 2018.
“After two Gold Awards, this year’s Silver Award is definitely not less important,” Miha Jakovčič said of the family’s win. “Like every year, we stayed up late waiting to see the live stream of the awards presentation from New York.”
“I think it was around 3 am when my wife and I shouted a victory scream after seeing Silver next to our brand name,” he added. “We are very proud producers of one of the world’s best olive oils – to receive a Silver or Gold Award in a competition like NYIOOC, the biggest olive oil competition in the world is a great recognition of our good work.”
This is another family business with a long tradition of growing olives in their hilly groves overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Jakovčič and his family follow the exacting and tedious process required to produce a high-quality oil by hand-harvesting and transporting the olives to the mill within hours of being picked.
“We are a relatively small producer or better, a boutique producer,” he said by way of introduction to the family’s approach to producing olive oil. “We deal with each of our trees individually: we can say that we ‘listen’ to our trees and give them what they need at the right moment.”
“We nurture them like they are our children,” he added. “The result is a fresh oil with a great smell and flavor, which leaves a unique and sensational aftertaste in your mouth.”
“I’m very pleased to see that every year more olive oil producers from Slovenia compete in NYIOOC,” Jakovčič continued, making note of this year’s record number of entries. “Knowing that Slovenia will be a ‘European Culinary Destination 2021’, it’s important for olive oil producers in Slovenia to show the world that we produce premium extra virgin olive oil. Although we are not an important player in the industry regarding quantity, I can proudly say that the quality of Slovenian olive oils was always very high.”
To back up this fact, he shares a bit of ancient history: “An interesting historical fact, which many people don’t know, comes from the oldest Roman cookbook “Apicius” written in the first century AD. The author described the procedure of doctoring cheap, smelly oil from Beatica with minced herbs and roots, to make it smell and taste like the prized oil from Istria.”
“Knowing this and details from a few other historical records, we can say that the highest quality olive oil has been produced in our region for thousands of years. All the international awards that Slovenian olive oil producers received in the last 10 years just confirm this fact.”