Croatia’s olive oil producers have been steadily making a mark at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition by winning more prizes with each coming year. Forty awards went to Croatian olive oils at 2018 NYIOOC compared to 22 in 2017 and nine in 2016.
Our aim is to widen horizons and cross borders in the olive oil world, always keeping a single promise of quality.
Overall, Croatia came in fifth place this year with the highest number of awards after Italy, Spain, the U.S. and Greece — an extraordinary performance for a small country with a population of only 4.2 million. Among the 45 brands submitted by Croatian producers, 40 won awards — a success rate of 89 percent. As a small producing country that cannot provide in terms of quantity, it excels in quality.
See Also: The Best Olive Oils from Croatia
Of the 40 awards that went to Croatian producers, there were 27 Golds, 11 Silvers, and two Best of Class. Most of the awards, including the two Best in Class and 21 Golds, were awarded to producers in the northwestern region of Istria, a peninsula in the North Adriatic sea.
The Best in Class Awards went to De Kleva, a medium blend produced by OPG Buršić Marija in Brtonigla, northern Istria; and the monovarietal Buža Bembo by OPG Lupić located in Bale, in the south of the peninsula.
Mili Kus was the only producer who travelled from Croatia to New York for the award ceremony.
“I went to New York with low expectations,” Kus told Olive Oil Times. “The end of April is usually very busy because that’s when I’m pruning my trees but I was glad I was able to travel to New York. I wanted to be part of the experience and meet other producers. When I arrived on award night I saw that there were 100 olive oils on display but mine wasn’t there. ‘Did I not make the grade?’ I wondered. But I was happy to see so many from Istria. I also had the chance to speak to some of the judges and they told me that the quality of entries was very high.”
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Last year Kus’ organic Oliva Lucia was awarded a Silver. This year she returned to Croatia with a Gold award in her suitcase. “When I heard Oliva Lucia announced as the winner of a Gold Award, I just couldn’t believe it! I went up on stage to collect my trophy and the rest of the evening was just a blur.”
The majority of this year’s awardees from Croatia are repeat winners. Among the first-time participants are a few well-established producers. One of these is Chiavalon. Like many local producers, this is a family-owned business run by brothers Sandi and Tedi Chiavalon and based in Vodnjan, southern Istria.
“Yes, this is the first time we participated in this big competition,” confirmed Tedi. “We decided to enter because it was important for us to see how New York would react to our olive oil. We’ve won so many prizes from all over the world, winning gold at practically every competition.”
The brothers won a Silver at 2018 NYIOOC for their organic Ex Albis oil, a medium blend described as “rich in aromas and fruity with balanced pungency and bitterness.”
“We sent in our Ex Albis oil to the competition because we feel it best represents us,” shared Tedi. “It’s a blend of five native Istrian varieties: Buža, Crnica, Istarska Bjelica, Rožinjola and Moražola. It balances bitterness and spiciness and is an all-around oil that can be used with everything.”
“We export to many Asian countries and for the past three years we’ve also been exporting to the US and we’re very proud of this as it’s a huge market,” he added. “We’re not a big producer but we pay attention to each and every detail of the production process to ensure the highest quality. We’ve invested in a Mori two-phase milling machine so now we can personally control each stage of the process to the final product. Nothing is better than processing your own oil directly after harvest. With this machine, we can keep the temperature at 19°C, maximum 21, and there’s no water used in the process at all. And we see the difference in our oil: it’s even higher in polyphenols and more fruity.”
Another well-known Istrian producer and a first-time NYIOOC participant is the Puhar-O’Grady family and their brand Brist run by Silvano Puhar, his daughter Lena Puhar O’Grady, and his Irish son-in-law Paul O’Grady.
“We were excited and delighted to hear of our gold at NYIOOC,” said O’Grady, who’s in charge of sales and marketing in the family business. “It is important because we get to test ourselves against the very best producers in the world and have our oils examined by a prestigious panel of experts. We have the good fortune to be surrounded, in Istria, by many world-class producers, thus the standard we aspire to must be exceptionally high. For us, the award is more of a validation that we remain on the right path, however in many ways our most important feedback comes directly from our clients and partners — their stories, their reactions and their continued support are the little gold medals of every day, which mean perhaps the most to us.”
The family won a Gold Award for their medium Buža, a limited edition extra virgin olive oil made from their farm’s centuries-old trees producing this local olive varietal known for its full-bodied taste and balance of fruity, grassy and spicy tones.
“Producing a range of oils from mild through to intense, we are always conscious that balance is really important from an organoleptic point of view,” O’Grady explained. “Our oils are very customer orientated, we think a lot about how customers need and want, and what is the right range and types that they can engage with.”
Kozlović is a name synonymous in Croatia with some of the country’s best wines. This award-winning winery located in Momjan, northern Istria has also branched out into producing olive oil with excellent results. Their robust blend made of the Leccino, Buža and Bianchera varietals received a Gold Award, another first-time winner at NYIOOC.
When I called my parents, I heard loud cheering and roaring from the crew as my father passed on the news. They were all working in the olive grove at that very moment.
“We were thrilled when we found out that from 1,000 registered samples, we won a Gold Award,” said Jelena Cvetković on behalf of the company. “This award is important to us because it is the confirmation that all our hard work paid off. Winning this award is also a motivation to continue working with the same or even more enthusiasm.”
The winery has applied the same approach it takes to producing its quality wines to olive oil. “We always like to repeat our simple philosophy, it is based on togetherness which is preserved through generations,” elaborated Cvetković. “We have always followed the same goal and worked on it with diligence and serious dedication. Our aim is to widen horizons and cross borders in the olive oil world, always keeping a single promise of quality. Doing this way from generation to generation, we are creating the olive oils which save the expression and character of Istrian indigenous varieties.”
Another Croatian newcomer to NYIOOC is Olivania, a blend produced on the Adriatic island of Lošinj from the local varietals Oblica, Starovjerka, Slivnjaca and Mastrinka. Tomislav Pavlić was in London when he found out that his family’s organic extra virgin olive oil won a gold.
“I was obviously pleased to bits when I checked the results first thing in the morning,” he told Olive Oil Times. “But when I called my parents, I heard loud cheering and roaring from the crew as my father passed on the news. They were all working in the olive grove at that very moment.”
The family had already won several golds for their oil from other competitions over the years after reinvigorating a centuries-old abandoned olive grove more than twenty years ago and watching it slowly thrive.
“After several years of cleaning up what became a forest, the original olive trees reappeared lined up on stone terraces,” Pavlić recounted. “Severe pruning of the trees meant that the first harvest was another few years away. During these years, we built our own road, water and electricity provision in order to ultimately install an on-site centrifuge. Olivania is a truly intergeneration project as my father’s heavy-duty engineering skills are on display during his retirement. As the son living abroad, I’m the hidden force behind the endeavor.”
“But all honors go to my father, Ivan Pavlić,” he made a point of emphasizing. “It’s his relentless work over the years that culminated in this award. While we know that we produce quality olive oil, others might not be able to tell straight away. This award provides indisputable recognition. Instantly.”