Croatian producers earned 49 awards at the 2020 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, once again demonstrating the high standard of quality in the small producing nation.
It is deeply important that our small town of Vodice got the opportunity to put its pin on the map of the world of top-quality olive oil.
Thirty-eight of the 49 winning oils submitted this year hailed from Istria, Croatia’s northwestern peninsula, while the 11 others were produced in the coastal region of Dalmatia and a few of its islands, namely Hvar, Šolta and Dugi Otok.
Five types of Croatian extra virgin olive oil enjoy PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status at the European Union level. These include a multi-country designation shared by Croatia and Slovenia for olive oil produced in Istria, while those from the Adriatic islands of Cres, Krk, Korčula and Šolta have their own PDO status.See more: The Best Olive Oils From Croatia
Most notable among this year’s winners were Istrian producers Oleum Maris and Avistria, with three awards each.
Oleum Maris’ brand, Oio Vivo, earned three Gold Awards for several excellent monovarietals made from varieties native to Istria: Buža, Žižolera and Istarska Bjelica.
Meanwhile, Avistria were awarded two Golds for their oils made from Buža olives, as well as a Silver Award for their Istrian Blend.
The winning team behind Avistria is an Austrian couple, Rudolf and Beatrix Nemetschke, who tend olive groves covering 12 acres of red soil in Sveti Lovreč, in the western part of the peninsula.
“This competition is not only important for our customers, which include restaurants, hotels, delis and private gourmets, but also for all the people who work with us,” Rudolf Nemetschke said. “For them, it’s very important for us to meet the quality standards of a Gold Award.”
“Producing olive oil means working all year long, making several crucial timing decisions with regard to pruning, watering and harvesting,” he added. “A Gold Award means that many or most of the efforts and decisions were right. It also means that we were lucky this year: no storms, hail, frost or flies!”
“For the people working in the olive grove, it’s the most important confirmation of their work,” Nemetschke concluded. “We opened a bottle of champagne on that news!”
For the Černeka family, producers of Uljara Torkop in northern Istria, a first-time entry to the NYIOOC has paid off with a Gold Award for their Černeka, a monovarietal extra virgin olive oil made from Istarska Bjelica olives. Their terraced groves cover a hilly area of chalky limestone soil near the border with Slovenia and the family has their own on-site oil mill.
“We participated in the NYIOOC for the first time,” Dražen Černeka told Olive Oil Times. “We’re overjoyed with the result,” he added. “This is another indication that our year-long efforts have paid off and proof that we have been maintaining the quality of our olive oils for years now. For us, quality comes first.”
Another major olive-growing region in Croatia is the sun-kissed region of Dalmatia, which extends south along the coastline of the Adriatic Sea and includes more than a thousand islands. Oil producers from Hvar have put the Dalmatian island on the map thanks to their excellent results at the NYIOOC.
In Bogomolje, a village in the east of the island, Ivo Radojković nurtures an olive grove planted with native Oblica and Levantinka olives.
He comes from a family of olive growers and returned to Hvar after a career in the capital city of Zagreb. The Garden of Eden, a monovarietal made of Levantinka olives, received a Gold Award.
“I was honored,” Radojković said. “This is confirmation that I produce top-quality extra virgin olive oil, which seems to be among the best in the world. Producing olive oil on the island is very demanding and processing olives is very expensive because it depends solely on human labor.”
“Our fields are scattered, we do not have a large field with a large number of olive trees,” he added. “I think that this is an advantage as we produce small amounts of olive oil, but we do not use pesticides and machinery. We respect the environment and we live in harmony with nature.”
Another challenge for the island’s producers in recent years has been insufficient rainfall.
“Climate change has brought long periods of drought which can have a negative impact on yield,” Radojković said. “Olive trees, therefore, require more care than ever. Behind every drop of our olive oil is love and devotion to this sacred tree, dedication to living in harmony with nature and great respect for the rocky karst soil that we work every day.”
Another Gold for a Hvar olive oil went to Božidar and Petra Balić of Uljara Božić for their Bozic Uje, made from Oblica olives.
“We live on the sunniest island in the world,” Božidar said. “Our olive groves are surrounded by natural flavorful fruits and wild herbs, which gives extra taste to our extra virgin olive oil. The combination of sun, light rain, nutrient-rich soil and fresh sea salted winds gives us excellent olive growing conditions.”
“This is our fourth time participating in the NYIOOC and our third Gold Award,” he added. “Winning a Gold Award at the NYIOOC means a lot for us. It means that our Oblica is one of the best olive varieties in the world and it gives us the strength to work harder and learn more. It tells us that we are doing good work in the olive groves. It also brings us a lot of new customers and recognition from all around the world.”
Hailing from the coastal town of Vodice on the Dalmatian mainland is Tomislav Duvnjak who has put in years of hard work producing extra virgin olive oils from the Oblica and Levantinka cultivars as well as Frantoio and Leccino olives.
At the 2020 NYIOOC, Duvnjak won a Silver Award from his monovarietal Sveti Ivan Oblica, as well as a Gold for his Sveti Ivan Blend.
“This was the first time we participated in the NYIOOC,” Duvnjak said. “Our whole little team was beyond excited and so proud when we realized we’ve won a Gold Award, particularly because this was the first renowned international competition we took part in.”
“We decided to participate for a few reasons,” he added. “One of them is certainly that we are aware of the high quality of our olive oil, so we wanted international acknowledgment of that quality at a prestigious competition like this one.”
For Duvnjak, winning an award is not only important as an acknowledgment of quality but also a way to put Dalmatian olive oil on the map.
“It is deeply important that our small town of Vodice got the opportunity to put its pin on the map of the world of top-quality olive oil,” he said. “This is the way to start building a brand, a Dalmatian brand of exquisite quality olive oil.”
“Only then can we stand together with fellow Istrian producers and be recognized as a country that makes the best olive oil in the world.”