Croatian Producers Share Secrets Behind Their Award-Winning Success

The small southeastern European country produced just 3,500 tons of olive oil in the 2023/24 crop year but earned 80 awards from 97 entries at the World Competition.

The Croatian producer Ivica Vlatkovic displays some of his World Olive Oil Competition awards.
By Nedjeljko Jusup
Jun. 3, 2024 13:09 UTC
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The Croatian producer Ivica Vlatkovic displays some of his World Olive Oil Competition awards.

After a chal­leng­ing har­vest, Croatian olive grow­ers are sat­is­fied with their achieve­ments at the 2024 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

Producers from the south­east­ern European coun­try earned the fourth-high­est num­ber of awards at the com­pe­ti­tion — 80 from 97 entries. According to data from the Olive Oil Times World Ranking, only Italy (148), the United States (96), and Spain (83) won more awards.

Croatia is a small coun­try but a super­power in the qual­ity of olive oils, which is con­firmed year after year.- Ivica Vlatković, pres­i­dent of the Zadar Olive Growers Association

However, farm­ers and millers quickly pointed out that their 82 per­cent suc­cess rate was the high­est of any coun­try that sub­mit­ted more than ten extra vir­gin olive oil sam­ples to the World Competition.

Croatian pro­duc­ers cel­e­brated their suc­cess after adverse cir­cum­stances, includ­ing extreme cli­matic con­di­tions and pests.

See Also:The best extra vir­gin olive oils from Croatia

Cold weather dur­ing the spring, fol­lowed by rain at the moment of flow­er­ing and pol­li­na­tion, resulted in lower fruit set on the trees. This was fol­lowed by the emer­gence of the olive fruit fly ahead of the har­vest, which impacted the quan­tity and qual­ity of the olive oil.

We won fourth place in a strong com­pe­ti­tion with much fewer reg­is­tered oils than our main com­peti­tors,” said Ante Vulin, the owner of Antino, which earned a Gold Award for a medium Oblica.

The pro­ducer grows 1,000 olive trees, of which 550 are in pro­duc­tion, along the shores of Lake Vrana, Croatia’s largest lake, in the north­ern Dalmatian region of Pakoštane.

Along with Vulin, three other pro­duc­ers from the munic­i­pal­ity, which is slightly smaller than Manhattan, com­bined with five World Competition awards.

Tomislav Čudina of Olea Viola earned a Gold Award for a medium blend; Vinko Lalin of OPG Lalin earned two Silver Awards for a blend and Oblica; and Mario Barešić of Skipper Drage earned a Gold Award for an Oblica.

We don’t have large groves or quan­ti­ties of oil,” Vulin said. We don’t even have mills. But we have a tra­di­tion, a nat­ural way of grow­ing healthy fruits and pro­duc­ing pre­mium oil that we get by cold press­ing.”

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Croatian producers celebrated their success after a difficult harvest.

Ivica Vlatković, the pres­i­dent of the county olive grow­ers’ asso­ci­a­tion and an award-win­ning pro­ducer from nearby Novigrad, also hailed the country’s immense suc­cess despite its small size.

Croatia is home to about 3.8 mil­lion peo­ple. According to the European Commission, the coun­try pro­duced 3,500 tons of olive oil in the 2023/24 crop year, about ten per­cent below the aver­age of the pre­vi­ous four years.

Croatia is a small coun­try but a super­power in the qual­ity of olive oils, which is con­firmed year after year,” said Vlatković, widely con­sid­ered the best olive grower among doc­tors and the best doc­tor among olive grow­ers.

Since 2017, he has also earned 15 awards at the NYIOOC, mak­ing him the coun­try’s most suc­cess­ful pro­ducer at the com­pe­ti­tion.

Since Tomislav Duvnjak, owner of Vodice, launched a coor­di­nated effort to orga­nize and help finance small Dalmatian pro­duc­ers to send entries to New York in 2021, Croatia has con­sis­tently been one of the biggest win­ners at the World Competition.

See Also:World Competition cov­er­age

Vlatković said that he and other pro­duc­ers now live for the day” when Croatia wins the most awards at the com­pe­ti­tion.

Olive oils come to New York from all over the world where olives are grown,” he said. That’s why it rep­re­sents the world cham­pi­onship in eval­u­at­ing the olive oil qual­ity. On a global level, Croatian olive oils have con­firmed their high qual­ity for years regard­ing the num­ber of oils sent and awarded.”

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Vlatković said Croatian pro­duc­ers are encour­aged to see that they are achiev­ing results sim­i­lar to their coun­ter­parts in more well-known olive-grow­ing coun­tries.

He attrib­uted the country’s dis­pro­por­tional suc­cess to sev­eral fac­tors, includ­ing the men­tal­ity of Croatian pro­duc­ers, many of whom are small farm­ers who ded­i­cate them­selves to car­ing for a small num­ber of trees.

Another key to the coun­try’s suc­cess is the pro­fes­sional edu­ca­tion pro­vided to these olive grow­ers through regional and coun­try asso­ci­a­tions.

Additionally, sig­nif­i­cant effort has been made to build high-qual­ity oil mills with suf­fi­cient capac­ity to process what is har­vested on the same day.

Vlatković also praised the role of local tast­ing pan­els in help­ing olive grow­ers iden­tify defects and deter­mine their causes.

Finally, he said many grow­ers enter numer­ous local and national events, cre­at­ing a com­pet­i­tive spirit and a cul­ture of improve­ment in the sec­tor.

If, instead of 97, Croatian olive grow­ers had sent at least as many of their oils to the NYIOOC [as pro­duc­ers from other coun­tries did], I’m sure they would have won more Gold Awards and thus shown every­one how far Croatia has come in the pro­duc­tion of top-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oils,” Vlatković said.

He added that con­di­tions look good in the groves ahead of the 2024/25 crop year,

The sit­u­a­tion in the olive groves is promis­ing,” Vlatković said. Spring brought enough mois­ture. The tem­per­a­tures are almost ideal, so the olive trees are full of flow­ers.”

We also expect good pol­li­na­tion,” he added. The har­vest is still far away, but there is every chance we will have a suc­cess­ful cam­paign. Much more suc­cess­ful than last year, which means more oil at the world’s largest qual­ity assess­ment in New York.”


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