Croatians Celebrate a 'High Quality' Olive Harvest

Olive oil producers in Croatia are happy with their new batch of freshly-pressed oil and report that despite lower yields, oil quality is even better than last year.

13th edition of the Festival of New Olive Oil in Vodnjan
Nov. 27, 2017
By Isabel Putinja
13th edition of the Festival of New Olive Oil in Vodnjan

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As Croatian olive grow­ers wind up the har­vest sea­son, many are attribut­ing their lower crop yields to the hot and dry sum­mer of 2017. 

After a cold and dry win­ter in many parts of Croatia, an early spring brought the early bloom­ing of olive blos­soms in many regions. This was fol­lowed by a hot and dry sum­mer sea­son with drought-like con­di­tions that pro­voked wild­fires in parts of Dalmatia along the south Adriatic coast. 

All is cer­tainly not lost though, because pro­duc­ers are happy with their new batch of freshly-pressed oil and report that despite lower yields, oil qual­ity is even bet­ter than last year.
See Also: The Best Olive Oils from Croatia
We har­vested about 40 per­cent less than last year, but the qual­ity is superb,” reported Roman Urbanija from his grove of close to 700 olive trees on the tiny Dalmatian island of Žižanj. 

The dry sum­mer fol­lowed a very dry win­ter and spring dur­ing which we had almost no rain. Our groves were car­peted with lit­tle dry olives that wilted and fell from the trees, while those that sur­vived were smaller than usual. But I must say that the qual­ity of the olive oil is again very high,” he added.

Further south on the Pelješac penin­sula, Ivan Miloš is cel­e­brat­ing a good har­vest. This year’s har­vest was one of the best,” he told Olive Oil Times. Due to an extremely cold win­ter and then an extremely hot and dry sum­mer, we didn’t have any prob­lem with dis­eases or the olive fly. So, even though we did have drought con­di­tions for a while, we got lots of rain in early September, just in time to refresh our olive trees. We started pick­ing on October 5th – which is quite early, and we fin­ished in a week. It’s impor­tant to pick olives at the right moment so that we can get that per­fect bal­ance of fruiti­ness and robustness.” 

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Meanwhile on the island of Krk in the North Adriatic, the Jud fam­ily started har­vest­ing two weeks ear­lier than last year, which had seen a par­tic­u­larly good har­vest. Iva Prendivoj Jud of Utla Olive shared some of the chal­lenges faced by pro­duc­ers on the island: In our area there were very high tem­per­a­tures at the time olive trees were blos­som­ing so many pro­duc­ers lost a lot of their crop. Then the biggest chal­lenge this sea­son was drought dur­ing the sum­mer. In our case, we have approx­i­mately 85 per­cent of last year’s har­vest so the dif­fer­ence is not so big. But last year was an excep­tional har­vest year.” 

Producers in the neigh­bor­ing penin­sula of Istria have just about com­pleted their har­vests and are report­ing sim­i­lar results: quan­tity is down but qual­ity is up. Daniel Bellani of Terra Rossa reported that over­all it was a good year: The sum­mer was hot and dry, but our red soil man­aged that very well. This year we har­vested 30 per­cent less than last year. But that is not crit­i­cal because last year was an extra­or­di­nary year. This year was again a nor­mal one and we had no prob­lems with viruses or insects.” 

A cer­ti­fied olive oil sen­sory expert, Bellani con­firmed that he’s more than sat­is­fied with his fam­i­ly’s new batch of fresh olive oil: From the sen­sory point of view, the new olive oil is full of green and fresh aro­mas and it has much less bit­ter­ness and pun­gency com­pared to the last few years. I would even say that the old olive oil still has even more pun­gency and bit­ter­ness com­pared to the new one. We expect that the new oil will achieve a bet­ter grade for har­mony.’ This will give us an even bet­ter rat­ing at inter­na­tional competitions.” 

Stelio Bellani of Terra Rossa (photo by Daniel Bellani)

This past week­end, pro­duc­ers from across the region shared results and sam­ples of their freshly-pressed oil at the 13th edi­tion of the Festival of New Olive Oil in Vodnjan, where there was a record num­ber of exhibitors. 

For some local pro­duc­ers, the three-day fes­ti­val pro­vided a break from the har­vest. We’re still har­vest­ing because we have to pick dif­fer­ent vari­eties at dif­fer­ent times,” explained Silvano Puhar of Brist, whose oils are pop­u­lar with many gourmet chefs. And I even pick some vari­eties twice: early and late, and then blend the oils together. Olives picked early are rich in polyphe­nols while those picked later have more of that bit­ter­ness that’s so sought after.” 

Occupying one of the big­ger cor­ner stalls at the fes­ti­val were the Chiavalon broth­ers whose name­sake brand is one of the best-known of Croatia’s many high-qual­ity olive oils. Their organic extra vir­gin olive oil is pro­duced on the fam­i­ly’s farm in Vodnjan and shipped across the world to cus­tomers in the US, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. 

Children perform at the 13th Festival of New Olive Oil in Vodnjan

While Tedi poured tast­ing sam­ples of their fresh new oil, his brother Sandi revealed that yield is up by 15 to 20 per­cent com­pared to last year. He attrib­uted this to their younger trees that are pro­duc­ing a lot of fruit. Thanks to the hot weather we did­n’t have any prob­lems with pests like the dreaded olive fly,” he added. Usually dur­ing the sum­mer I check on our trees every other day, but I know that as soon as tem­per­a­tures climb over 37 (degrees Celsius) I can relax and head to the beach.” 

Overall, Croatian grow­ers have had a laid back sea­son and a pro­longed har­vest. Press arti­cles have reported that oil mills have not been work­ing around the clock like last year when the threat of pests pushed grow­ers to pick their olives as quickly as pos­si­ble. However, a new chal­lenge for many olive farms is the lack of man­power. Workers are increas­ingly hard to find and some pro­duc­ers have resorted to using mech­a­nized tools instead of pick­ing entirely by hand. 

With the har­vest just about over and pro­duc­ers sat­is­fied with the high qual­ity of their freshly-pressed oils, the focus for many will now be apply­ing for inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions. Croatian olive grow­ers took home a record num­ber of inter­na­tional awards in 2017. Quantity may be down this year but this has not sac­ri­ficed qual­ity which will hope­fully bring more awards in 2018.


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