Former Footballer and Lawyer Team Up to Produce High-Quality Olive Oil

After a cancer scare, retired soccer star Nikica Cukrov and his son-in-law teamed up to plant trees and make extra virgin olive oil.

Vjeran Paić and Nikica Cukrov
By Nedjeljko Jusup
Apr. 13, 2023 13:24 UTC
Vjeran Paić and Nikica Cukrov

In the heart of Dalmatia, the most promi­nent olive-grow­ing region in Croatia, lies Split, home to one of the most renowned and suc­cess­ful Croatian foot­ball clubs, Hajduk.

The peo­ple of Dalmatia say that only Hajduk and olives live for­ever, and for one of the club’s for­mer play­ers, Nikica Cukrov, this has proven true in more ways than one.

Along with Vjeran Paić, his son-in-law and a well-known lawyer, the 65-year-old earned a Silver Award at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition for Brunela, a medium blend.

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Winning at the NYIOOC is a great suc­cess,” said Cukrov, who played for Hajduk and three other Croatian teams when it was part of Yugoslavia in the 1970s and 1980s and the Yugoslavian national team. I want to win Gold at the NYIOOC, so we will con­tinue to com­pete in the com­ing years.”

After retir­ing from foot­ball in the nearby city of Šibenik in 1990, Cukrov con­tin­ued to live life to the fullest, indulging in the local cui­sine, drink and tobacco.

However, this way of life began to take a toll on his health, and he was even­tu­ally diag­nosed with throat can­cer. After a suc­cess­ful sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dure, Cukrov changed his lifestyle and focused on his fam­i­ly’s agri­cul­tural roots.

I come from the island of Prvić, where peo­ple have always been engaged in agri­cul­ture and fish­ing,” Cukrov said.


Teaming up with Paić in Kučine, near Šibenik, Cukrov started cul­ti­vat­ing veg­eta­bles and 60 olive trees on 2.5 hectares of land owned by his son-in-law. Soon, the two planted 300 more olive trees of mostly local vari­eties, some of which have not yet reached full matu­rity.

Planting was pre­ceded by a soil analy­sis at the Institute for Adriatic Crops and Karst Reclamation. It turned out that the soil was good for all Mediterranean crops, includ­ing olives.

We respect the rec­om­men­da­tions of the pro­fes­sion­als and imple­ment all eco­log­i­cal and agrotech­ni­cal mea­sures, from prun­ing, fer­til­iz­ing and pro­tec­tion to timely har­vest­ing and pro­cess­ing of freshly picked fruits,” Paić said.

He and Nikica have been awarded sev­eral times for their oils, but this year’s Silver Award at the NYIOOC is spe­cial.

Their Brunela blend, made from the fruits of the autochtho­nous Oblica, Levantinka, Lastovka and Krvavica vari­eties, was rated highly by the team of NYIOOC judges.


The award at the world’s largest com­pe­ti­tion is a con­fir­ma­tion of qual­ity, but also an addi­tional incen­tive to per­sist in pro­duc­ing even bet­ter extra vir­gin olive oil,” Cukrov and Paić said.

The pair do not hide that every­thing from soil qual­ity to geo­graphic posi­tion­ing of the groves helps them achieve high qual­ity. The two are cur­rently inves­ti­gat­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of installing irri­ga­tion into their groves.

We are con­sult­ing with experts about what is bet­ter for our olive trees: drip irri­ga­tion or sprin­kling,” they said.

They know that with­out irri­ga­tion, espe­cially in the dry areas of Dalmatia, there is no suc­cess­ful olive grow­ing. Dalmatia has a cen­turies-old olive-grow­ing tra­di­tion but is feel­ing the impacts of cli­mate change.


Nikica Cukrov, 1978

We can­not influ­ence them, but we can adapt to them,” Cukrov said. He and Vjeran are espe­cially pleased that young peo­ple are increas­ingly inter­ested in olive grow­ing, restor­ing old, aban­doned land and plant­ing new groves.

A real olive-grow­ing renais­sance is hap­pen­ing in Dalmatia, con­firmed by the sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of awards earned by pro­duc­ers from the south­ern Croatian region each year at domes­tic and inter­na­tional qual­ity com­pe­ti­tions.

Producers from Croatia, which has a pop­u­la­tion of nearly four mil­lion peo­ple, have earned the fourth-high­est with 53 awards from 128 entries at the 2023 NYIOOC.

Winners will con­tinue to be announced through April. Cukrov and Paić expect more Croatian extra vir­gin olive oils to be awarded.

They proudly point out that Croatian olive grow­ers and foot­ball play­ers are among the best in the world.

The fiery” foot­ball play­ers, as they call them, fin­ished in third at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in December 2022, defeat­ing Brazil on their run to the semi-finals.

The coun­try’s olive oil pro­duc­ers achieved the same feat at the 2022 NYIOOC. Cukrov and Paić are bull­ish that Croatian pro­duc­ers will con­tinue to win at the NYOOC.

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