Brač Seeks Croatia’s Sixth PDO Certification

Olive oil has played an integral role in the cultural, ecological and economic development of the Dalmatian island.
Photo: Tija Mlinac
Aug. 10, 2021
Paolo DeAndreis

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One Croatian island known through­out his­tory for being a source of excel­lent olive oil will soon see its olive oil rec­og­nized with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) cer­ti­fi­ca­tion from the European Union.

The renowned extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duced on the island of Brač is mainly extracted from the Oblica vari­ety. It will be the sixth PDO for which Croatian pro­duc­ers have applied, adding to Cres, Istria, Korcula, Krk and Solta.

A fam­ily table with­out olive oil is unthink­able on the island of Brač.- Tija Mlinac, gen­eral man­ager, Poljoprivredna Zadruga coop­er­a­tive

Located off the Croatian coast­line between Split and Makarska in the heart of Dalmatia, Brač is the third largest island in the Adriatic Sea and boasts breath­tak­ing shores and rolling hills.

On Brač, where tourism thrives, qual­ity olive oil pro­duc­tion has long been part of the local iden­tity. Olive trees have grown on the island for mil­len­nia. Even the Roman nat­u­ral­ist Pliny the Elder cred­ited the island as a source of excel­lent olive oil.

The olive has always been the most impor­tant agri­cul­tural crop on the island of Brač,” Tija Mlinac, an agron­o­mist and the gen­eral man­ager of the Poljoprivredna Zadruga coop­er­a­tive in Supetar, one of the main island’s towns, told Olive Oil Times.

The first writ­ten traces of olive cul­ti­va­tion can be found in the records of the Greko-Roman travel writer Strabo from the first cen­tury B.C., and the edict of Emperor Diocletian from the third cen­tury A.D., in which olive cul­ti­va­tion is men­tioned as sig­nif­i­cant,” she added.

The PZ Supetar coop­er­a­tive is the lead­ing pro­moter of the extra vir­gin olive oils from the island receiv­ing PDO cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. According to the PDO spec­i­fi­ca­tions, Brač olive oil is pro­duced with at least 80 per­cent autochtho­nous Oblica olives, all of which must come from reg­is­tered groves on the island.

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Photo: Tija Mlinac

The peo­ple of Brač adapted their envi­ron­ment to the needs of olive grow­ing and chose Oblica as the most suit­able vari­ety which became dom­i­nant on this island,” Mlinac said. It is fully adapted to demand­ing geo-cli­matic con­di­tions which defined the rec­og­niz­abil­ity and qual­ity of Brač olive oil.”

This qual­ity has been main­tained thanks to the con­tin­u­ous pro­duc­tion and con­stant improve­ment of agro-tech­ni­cal pro­ce­dures and the tech­nol­ogy used to process olives into oil,” she added.

Brač extra vir­gin olive oil is char­ac­ter­ized by its low con­tent of free fatty acids and low per­ox­ide val­ues. The oil boasts a bal­anced aroma of fresh olive fruit, leaves and grass, with a high level of polyphe­nols.

The total con­tent of phe­no­lic com­pounds in Brač olive oil is higher than 300 mil­ligrams per kilo­gram of oil,” Mlinac said.

She also empha­sized how olive grow­ing means much more to the res­i­dents of Brač than just its eco­nomic value. It affects their tra­di­tions, spir­i­tual life and how they pro­tect their land­scape.

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Olive mill remains at museum in Škrip. Photo: Tija Mlinac

The advance­ment and devel­op­ment of olive grow­ing on Brač in the 16th cen­tury were encour­aged by the Venetian admin­is­tra­tion, which sug­gested to the Duke of Brač that olive trees must be planted on uncul­ti­vated areas, thus increas­ing olive oil pro­duc­tion,” she said.

According to his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments cited by the coop­er­a­tive, the con­tin­u­ous expan­sion of olive orchards meant that half a mil­lion olive trees pro­duced about 800 wag­ons of olive oil” by the end of the 18th cen­tury. At the time, the island was pro­duc­ing more olive oil than the rest of Dalmatia.

However, in the sec­ond half of the 19th cen­tury, local farm­ers began expand­ing their vine­yards and started grow­ing fewer olive trees. Still, Brač remained one of the most rel­e­vant olive oil exporters among Dalmatia’s islands, with pro­duc­tion above 1.4 mil­lion liters each year.

The great devel­op­ment of olive grow­ing on the island resulted in the found­ing of the First Dalmatian Oil Cooperative in 1899 in Povlja, and then the Oil Cooperative in Pučišća in 1909,” Mlinac said.

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Interior of the Olive Oil Museum in Škrip. Photo: Tija Mlinac

According to the PZ Supetar coop­er­a­tive, the island’s olive orchards now spread over more than 1,883 hectares, which roughly means they cover one-third of all crops in Brač.

The island also boasts eight mod­ern pro­cess­ing plants located in the major towns. In addi­tion, some farm­ers run mills and usu­ally sell their prod­ucts through word of mouth and among acquain­tances.

The coop­er­a­tive esti­mates that the island’s olive oil pro­duc­tion, which is sub­ject to the alter­nate bear­ing sea­sons, reaches between 800 and 1,000 tons per year.

Only a small num­ber of pro­duc­ers brand their olive oils and sell them through retail chains or in larger quan­ti­ties out­side the island,” Mlinac said. A large num­ber of small pro­duc­ers are engaged in olive grow­ing as a sup­ple­men­tary occu­pa­tion, and only a small num­ber live exclu­sively from the sale of olive oil.”

Due to the spe­cific ter­rain with lit­tle arable land, olive grow­ing is done by tra­di­tional meth­ods with­out the help of machines,” she added. Pruning is done by hand as well as har­vest­ing, which ensures a spe­cial qual­ity of olives.”

According to Mlinac, the unique cli­matic con­di­tions mean that local farm­ers usu­ally har­vest their olives between the end of September and the first weeks of October, when olive fruits are just streaked with a darker color and are of firm con­sis­tency, and they well tol­er­ate trans­port to the oil mill.”

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Photo: Tija Mlinac

Such an early har­vest reduces the olive oil yields but ensures the high qual­ity of Brač olive oil,” she added.

After the olives are har­vested, they are care­fully trans­ported to the mills and processed, ensur­ing that the tem­per­a­ture never exceeds 27 ºC, which Mlinac said con­tributes to the spe­cific chem­i­cal and sen­sory prop­er­ties of Brač olive oil.

Research has shown that this approach to olive oil pro­duc­tion ensures the specifics of Brač olive oil such as low val­ues of free fatty acids and per­ox­ide num­ber, high val­ues of total phe­no­lic com­pounds, bal­anced bit­ter­ness and spici­ness and pro­nounced fruiti­ness,” she said.

Along with their ded­i­ca­tion to pro­duc­tion, the res­i­dents of Brač are also enthu­si­as­tic olive oil con­sumers, accord­ing to Mlinac. The peo­ple of Brač fre­quently eat green and ripe olives as a side dish, in addi­tion to using olive oil in a vari­ety of local spe­cial­ties, from sal­ads to fish.

A fam­ily table with­out olive oil is unthink­able on the island of Brač,” Mlinac said. At least 2,000 years of the pres­ence of olives and oil pro­cess­ing on Brač has left a deep mark on today’s olive grow­ing and the qual­ity of its olive oil, which enjoys a great rep­u­ta­tion in the mod­ern mar­ket.”





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