How a Practical Joke Led to Award-Winning Olive Oil

On a whim, two cousins from Zagreb started growing olives 15 years ago. Now, they are entering the NYIOOC once again and hoping for Gold.
By Nedjeljko Jusup
Mar. 16, 2022 13:40 UTC

A pair of unlikely olive grow­ers have once again made the 300-kilo­me­ter jour­ney from their homes in the Croatian cap­i­tal to their groves in north­ern Dalmatia.

Mladen Koša, 53, and Mirko Mišura, 51, are cousins who spent most of their lives in Zagreb before a prac­ti­cal joke from Mišura’s father led the pair down the path to becom­ing award-win­ning olive oil pro­duc­ers.

To win an award at such a pres­ti­gious world com­pe­ti­tion (such as the NYIOOC) is every olive grow­er’s dream.- Mladen Koša and Mirko Mišura, co-own­ers, Explanta Ko-Milfa

I can’t wait to get there. First to the olive grove, and then to the cot­tage,” said Mladen Koša, who grew up in Zagreb and works at the Zagreb Fair, the country’s lead­ing venue for trade shows and exhi­bi­tions.

It all started as a joke,” said Koša, explain­ing how he and Mišura, who also lives and works in Zagreb, became olive farm­ers in the heart of Ravni Kotari, a large plain in cen­tral Croatia about 60 kilo­me­ters north of Zadar.

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One evening, 15 years ago, my uncle and Mirko’s father, Milivoj Mišura, told us as a prank: Guys, I have 8,000 square meters of land in Perušić. There you are and do what you want. Plant olives,’ ” he added.

Koša said that he did not wait long to answer. He and his cousin quickly got to busi­ness and planted 150 of the indige­nous Oblica vari­ety, 43 Krvavica trees and seven Leccino trees, which proved to be a good pol­li­na­tor.

Hence, the Explanta Ko-Milfa fam­ily farm was born. Soon after, the cousins bought another 1,500 square meters of land, plant­ing figs, almonds and 50 more olive trees.

They are cur­rently arrang­ing to pur­chase an addi­tional 5,000 square meters of land next to the exist­ing olive grove.

We would buy more, we want to enlarge the prop­erty, but no one will sell, even though the land next to our olive grove is uncul­ti­vated,” Mišura said.

In the newly plowed and flat­tened soil, the cousins will plant a high-den­sity olive grove with Oliana, Arbequina, Lecciana (a cross between Leccino and Arbequina), Coratina, Kvavica and Pendolino vari­eties, all of which bet­ter tol­er­ate the region’s chang­ing cli­matic con­di­tions.


We want to have enough oil every year. If the trees fail, domes­tic vari­eties will not be intro­duced,” the cousins said as they began prun­ing their trees.

We are in no hurry to start prun­ing. In February, the bud­ding begins. In March, you can see exactly which ones are native,” they added.

The cousins are helped in the prun­ing process by friends from Zagreb, turn­ing this time of year into a fes­tive one in their olive groves.

There is noth­ing bet­ter than social­iz­ing. Because we have been learn­ing from each other for a long time,” Zoran Crnomarković, one of the friends who helps in the groves, said.

Others includ­ing Renato Kovačić, Almir Halilagić, Tihomir Perkovic and Marin Mišura feel the same way.

During a brief break from prun­ing, the friends gath­ered at a table next to two stone houses to enjoy local del­i­ca­cies, includ­ing suck­ling pig, beans, wine, beer, var­i­ous cakes.


Along with expand­ing their groves, the cousins are ren­o­vat­ing the stone houses on the prop­erty and intend to dec­o­rate them in the tra­di­tional Dalmatian style.

They also antic­i­pate receiv­ing €165,000 in European funds for rural devel­op­ment, part of which will be ded­i­cated to ren­o­vat­ing the old stone houses and restor­ing the region’s archi­tec­tural her­itage.

After we ren­o­vate the houses, we will spend even more time on the prop­erty,” Koša said. Guests will also come to taste our oil. We intend to com­bine olive grow­ing and tourism.”

Koša will be joined in the olive grove this sum­mer by his par­ents, wife and daugh­ter. The fam­ily will work in the olive grove in the morn­ing or evening. The rest of the day will be spent by the sea in Pirovac, where they have a cot­tage.

From Perušić to Pirovac is 24 kilo­me­ters. The same as between the two neigh­bor­hoods (from Dubrava to Sesvete) in Zagreb,” Koša said.

Mišura will also be joined by his fam­ily, who also have a cot­tage nearby, and will join them in both work and recre­ation.

While the cousins have enjoyed plenty of the rewards of olive grow­ing, this has not come with­out its chal­lenges, espe­cially the ongo­ing drought in the region and increas­ingly hot sum­mers.


As a result, they have devel­oped new irri­ga­tion sys­tems this sum­mer. Water from the nearby Lišani Ostrovicki is pumped into a 15,000-liter sys­tem of cis­terns.

The first arrives in a 5,500-liter rub­ber tank, located in a stone house, so the intense heat does not deform it. There are three more exter­nal stor­age tanks, each with 3,500 liters of water.

The tanks are con­nected with an out­let pipe through which the water flows down to the drips arranged around each olive tree.

We have a nat­ural slope of about five meters, and the ter­rain with seven rows of olive trees is 230 meters long, so there are no prob­lems with water flow,” Koša said. Around each tree are three drip­pers of four liters of water per hour, so together they give each olive tree 12 liters of water.”

It is bet­ter to water inten­sively once than sev­eral times less, which is of lit­tle use because it is too dry, so the water does not reach the roots,” he added.

However, the cousins’ olive groves are pro­tected from the wind. The trees stretch along a south­ern slope, shielded from the strong north winds but exposed to con­stant air­flow. This dra­mat­i­cally reduces the chances of attacks by dis­eases and pests. As a result, the cousins rarely spray olives, using organic pes­ti­cides when they do.


The fruits of our olives are healthy, so the oil is of good qual­ity,” the cousins said. The two have won var­i­ous local awards for their extra vir­gin olive oils and earned a Silver Award for their Oblica mono­va­ri­etal at the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

To win an award at such a pres­ti­gious world com­pe­ti­tion is every olive grow­er’s dream,” the cousins said.

This year, the cousins plan to enter a blended extra vir­gin olive oil, com­pris­ing Oblica (60 per­cent), Krvavica (30 per­cent) and Leccino (10 per­cent). The oil is already on its way to New York, and the cousins are hop­ing for Gold.

Hope is not for­bid­den,” Koša said with a char­ac­ter­is­tic smile. Along with other pro­duc­ers, he hopes to repeat last year’s result when Croatians earned 67 Gold and 20 Silver Awards at the NYIOOC.

In the mean­time, Koša and Mišura will con­tinue to grow their olives, ren­o­vate the stone houses and dry stone walls and gather rel­a­tives and friends in the olive grove.

We com­bine the pleas­ant with the use­ful,” Mišura con­cluded.


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