Croatian olive oils came in fourth after Italy, Spain and the United States, a significant result for a small country with a modest production.
The number of entries to the New York International Olive Oil Competition (NYIOOC) from Croatia has been increasing steadily with each year.
At NYIOOC 2019, a record 61 entries were received from Croatian olive oil producers, with 51 winning awards: a success rate of 84 percent.
Obviously, we are very proud of the excellent result we got on our very first attempt at the world’s most prestigious olive oil competition.
Croatian producers came fourth in the award standings after Italy, Spain and the United States (with one award more than Croatia), a significant result for a small country with a modest annual production.
Of the 51 Croatian winning olive oils, 32 were awarded Gold Awards and 18 Silver, while one was awarded Best in Class.See more: The Best Olive Oils from Croatia
Forty-five of the 51 winning oils originate from the peninsula of Istria in the North Adriatic Sea, an olive-growing region that has been gaining recognition for its high-quality olive oil with each passing year.
Croatia’s other main olive region is Dalmatia, the region stretching southwards along Croatia’s Adriatic coastline and includes its neighboring islands.
Olive oil from Šolta island is one of the five Croatian olive oils enjoying Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status at the European Union level, along with other protected oils from the islands of Cres, Krk and Korčula.
Earlier this year, a multi-country PDO was granted to olive oil from the peninsula of Istria, which is shared geographically by both Croatia and Slovenia.
“We were very happy and proud to win Gold because we invested a lot of love and effort into the production of our olive oil. We consider NYIOOC to be one of the most important and most prestigious worldwide competitions of olive oil,” Žarko Željko said of the win.
Željko’s 15-acre organic olive farm of 450 olive trees is located in Selca, in the south-eastern corner of the island of Brač, which has a long history of olive cultivation.
“The oil is made of olives cultivated in unpolluted soil,” he said. “Grass and weeds are removed manually and sheep graze on the grass and fertilize the soil naturally. I don’t use chemical fertilizers.”
“Harvesting is done manually and pressing commences only a few hours after harvest in order to preserve all the flavors and aromas of the olives,” he added. “I use no preservatives, additives, colorants or flavor enhancers. This is a pure whole food.”
Željko carefully supervises all aspects of production and processing to ensure a quality product and is satisfied with results.
“The content of oleic acid and peroxide value of our oil is much lower than required for a superior quality olive oil,” he said. “This is the result of doing everything manually without assistance of any machinery, and giving all my love and affection to my olive trees. Every drop of olive oil contains the aroma and flavor of the olives from the island of Brač.”
Istrian family producers Al Torcio were also first-time participants at NYIOOC, winning two Golds and a Silver Award. They received Golds for their monovarietals Al Torcio Frantoio and Al Torcio Itrana, and a Silver for their Al Torcio Rosulja, also a monocultivar.
“We are a small family-owned producer from north-western Istria,” Karmino Beletić told Olive Oil Times. “We’re continuing the 25-year project of my father, Tranquilino, who passed away three years ago and whose idea it was to create a boutique olive mill, which will produce only the best olive oils.”
“After winning gold medals at competitions in Europe, including Arezzo, Rome, Hamburg, Paris, Zagreb, and Split, we decided to try the American continent,” he added.
The family’s 1,800 olive trees grow in five different groves in Novigrad, on hills overlooking the Adriatic Sea.
“This is very important, as the winds from the sea bring salinity, which acts as a natural purifier,” Beletić said. “We use a special self-produced fertilizer obtained from a fermented olive mill pomace. Olives are picked exclusively by hand and milled within a few hours in our own olive mill.”
The family produces eight different single cultivars: Leccino, Pendolino, Frantoio, Rosulja, Itrana, Ascolana, Bjelica, Moraiolo, as well as a blend.
“Obviously, we are very proud of the excellent result we got on our very first attempt at the world’s most prestigious olive oil competition,” Beletić said of the win. “This is very important as we would like to offer our extra virgin olive oil to the American market which is very different to the European one.”
Another newcomer to NYIOOC to win Gold was the Bodis family from South Istria.
“We are a small family producer who started this olive adventure alongside our successful traditional beekeeping,” Ana Bodis said. “Our organically grown olives are surrounded by forests and we keep our bees in the olive grove where we also find extraordinary biodiversity that includes lots of insects that are predators for olive pests.”
The family’s gold-winning namesake Bodis is an organic blend of the Leccino, Pendolino, Buža and Istrian Bjelica varieties.
“This was our first time participating in NYIOOC,” Bodis added. “We were pleasantly surprised because winning a prize with so much competition is a great achievement for us. It’s confirmation that we are moving in the right direction and gives us the motivation to move forward.”