The Croatian Minister of Agriculture, Tihomir Jakovina, presented 20 local olive oil producers with the official label “Istrian Extra Virgin Olive Oil” last month at the Center for the Development of Olive Production in the Istrian city of Vodnjan.
Speaking at the event, the president of the Istrian region, Valter Flego, said that the official ‘Istrian Extra Virgin Olive Oil’ label will “ensure a higher quality and more competitive product, while protecting local olive growers, and guaranteeing high quality and authenticity for the consumer.”
An agricultural product with a protected designation of origin (PDO) is one which is produced, processed and prepared in a certain geographical area. Such a designation guarantees the origin and authenticity of local agricultural products and protects their names from misuse.
Though olive oil was produced in the Istrian peninsula since Roman times, the local oil olive industry has received an impulse only in the past 20 years. Thanks to investments by regional and municipal governments, production has increased significantly and olive oil from this region is gaining increasing international recognition.
In 1994, there were approximately 350,000 olive trees growing here and three olive oil mills in operation. Today, this figure stands at 1.2 million trees and 30 mills. The municipality of Vodnjan alone has 500,000 olive trees. The city in South Istria is also home to five award-winning olive oil producers and is the host of an annual olive oil festival.
Since many Istrian olive growers are small family businesses producing limited quantities of olive oil, they cannot compete on the European and international markets in terms of quantity. However, Istrian olive oil is increasingly being recognized for its high quality and exquisite fruity note.
At the New York International Olive Oil Competition (NYIOOC) in April 2015, eight extra virgin olive oils from Istria won awards, and the 2015 edition of the Flos Olei guide lists 56 olive growers and Istrian olive oil producers.
As part of a tourism development project, sign-posted “olive oil routes” across the Istrian region point visitors in the direction of the olive groves and tasting rooms of producers where locally-produced olive oil can be tasted and purchased.
While the process of gaining PDO status for Istrian extra virgin olive oil on the national level took five years, the next step would be recognition at the European level. Extra virgin olive oil from the Croatian island of Cres already enjoys PDO status at the EU level, along with three other Croatian agricultural products.