Fairs, Competitions

Record Wins for Slovenian Producers in New York

Slovenian producers won three Golds and three Silvers to reach the highest number of awards for this small country at NYIOOC yet.

The Morgan family harvesting olives on their family farm
May. 22, 2019
By Isabel Putinja
The Morgan family harvesting olives on their family farm

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The number of Slovenian olive oil pro­duc­ers send­ing entries to the New York International Olive Oil Competition (NYIOOC) has been slowly increas­ing with each pass­ing year.

NYIOOC 2019 saw eight oils from this small coun­try par­tic­i­pat­ing in the com­pe­ti­tion and six rec­og­nized, with three Gold and three Silver Awards. This is the high­est number awarded to Slovenian pro­duc­ers so far and one more than the five they took home at NYIOOC 2017.

We’re very excited and so proud that our oil is among the best olive oils.- Kristjan Jerebica

Sharing bor­ders with Italy, Austria and Croatia (and a sliver with Hungary to the east), Slovenia is both a Mediterranean and Alpine coun­try. It is also in the north­ern-most region of the Mediterranean where olives are cul­ti­vated.

This includes an area bor­der­ing Italy in west­ern Slovenia and the hills of Istria, a penin­sula in the Adriatic Sea. Growing here are Italian cul­ti­vars includ­ing Leccino, Maurino, Frantoio and Pendolino as well as vari­eties native to Istria, includ­ing Istrska Belica, Buga and Črnica.

See more: The Best Olive Oils from Slovenia

Slovenia has a very modest annual pro­duc­tion at approx­i­mately 400 tons, but it makes up for this with the high qual­ity of its oil.

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Extra virgin olive oil from Slovenia has been rec­og­nized for its supe­rior qual­ity since 2007 when it was granted a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) at the European Union level.

Earlier this year, a multi-coun­try PDO for olive oil pro­duced in both the Slovenian and Croatian parts of the Istrian penin­sula under the appel­la­tion “Istra” was reg­is­tered.

The NYIOOC has seen entries from Slovenia only for the past four years. Two of this year’s win­ners have won awards for the third year run­ning.

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The Morgan family has won Gold in the past three edi­tions of NYIOOC for its Cuvee, an organic robust blend.

Cuvee has won a Gold Award at the NYIOOC for three consecutive years.

“We have par­tic­i­pated for the last three years and as a result of our good work we were rewarded with Gold each year,” Marko Opašić, of Olje Morgan, told Olive Oil Times. “It’s always a good feel­ing when you are awarded, we were very happy.”

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“Especially win­ning at a big com­pe­ti­tion, like the NYIOOC, where pro­duc­ers from all over the world are par­tic­i­pat­ing and the com­pe­ti­tion is strong,” he added. “It’s impor­tant for us because it shows that we’re on the right path to pro­duc­ing the high­est qual­ity organic olive oil deserv­ing of Gold. Also, win­ning an award from NYIOOC helps us to pro­mote Slovenian olive oil world­wide.”

The major­ity of the Morgan fam­i­ly’s groves are planted with the native Istrska belica but cul­ti­vars such as Leccino, Maurino, Moraiolo and Rosciola also grow here in the north­ern tip of Istria. That fact that their oil is pro­duced organ­i­cally is a matter of pride.

“Our oil is made with heart,” he said. “It’s organic, it has the right bal­ance of bit­ter­ness and spici­ness and is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of our indige­nous vari­eties. As we are not a giant pro­ducer we can focus on qual­ity. We mon­i­tor our trees daily at all stages of growth until the olives reach the opti­mal matu­rity to pro­duce the best olive oil.”

Another Gold went to the Bučinel family for their name­sake Bučinel, a medium intense oil made from Briška drob­nica, an indige­nous cul­ti­var from the region of Brda, tucked in between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea in west­ern Slovenia.

The Bučinel family has already col­lected a slew of national and inter­na­tional awards and their high-qual­ity oil is on the tables of restau­rants across Europe and North America.

“This was our first time par­tic­i­pat­ing in NYIOOC,” Aleš Bučinel said. “We were pleas­antly sur­prised. I think that a Gold Award from a com­pe­ti­tion like NYIOOC means that we are on the right path to suc­cess and that we should carry on doing what we love most: pro­duc­ing extra virgin olive oil and shar­ing it with those who are lucky enough to taste it.”

On the Bučinel farm, in the vil­lage of Gradno, grow not only olive groves but also fruit orchards and vine­yards.

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Bučinel’s olive oil are used in restaurants throughout Europe and North America.

Bučinel explained why the cul­ti­var native to his region is unique: “Briška drob­nica is a very unique indige­nous cul­ti­var from the Goriška Brda region of Slovenia. The result is a very har­mo­nious oil, of medium inten­sity, with pleas­ant fruiti­ness and medium bit­ter­ness and spici­ness. Its spe­cial har­mo­nious taste comes from the fact that trees strug­gle to sur­vive here in the north­ern-most olive grow­ing region.”

Hailing from the same region is the Sirk family who won Silver at NYIOOC 2019 for their Belica, a medium intense olive oil made of Istrska belica. The Sirk family has been pro­duc­ing wine and grow­ing fruit for three gen­er­a­tions, with the youngest gen­er­a­tion, more recently branch­ing out to olive oil pro­duc­tion, with great results.

“This is our first time par­tic­i­pat­ing in NYIOOC,” Ivan Sirk said. “We were very sat­is­fied that our oil won a very well-known award. It con­firms that our work is done well and effi­ciently. It also con­firms that our olive oil is one of great qual­ity.”

The third Silver awarded to Slovenian pro­duc­ers went to the Jerebica family, and their organic Jerebica brand, a blend of Istrska belica, Leccino, Leccione and Pendolino olives.

The fam­i­ly’s olive farm is in Nova Vas, perched at almost 985 feet above sea level and close to the border with Croatia. Growing here, just nine miles from the sea, are groves of 200-year old olive trees as well as younger addi­tions.

“In 2014, we won a Best in Class Award in the robust cat­e­gory for our blend,” Kristjan Jerebica said. “This year we decided to again to test our oil at NYIOOC, and we won a Silver Award in the medium cat­e­gory.”

“We’re very excited and so proud that our oil is among the best olive oils,” he added. “We pro­duce only organic olives and extra virgin olive oil. Winning an award is very impor­tant to us because it con­firms that our hard work was not wasted.”



 



Another multi-time winner at NYIOOC is Miha Jakovčič, who took a Silver for his Giuliana blend this year, and Golds in 2017 and 2018.

“After two Gold Awards, this year’s Silver Award is def­i­nitely not less impor­tant,” Miha Jakovčič said of the fam­i­ly’s win. “Like every year, we stayed up late wait­ing to see the live stream of the awards pre­sen­ta­tion from New York.”

“I think it was around 3 am when my wife and I shouted a vic­tory scream after seeing Silver next to our brand name,” he added. “We are very proud pro­duc­ers of one of the world’s best olive oils – to receive a Silver or Gold Award in a com­pe­ti­tion like NYIOOC, the biggest olive oil com­pe­ti­tion in the world is a great recog­ni­tion of our good work.”

This is another family busi­ness with a long tra­di­tion of grow­ing olives in their hilly groves over­look­ing the Adriatic Sea. Jakovčič and his family follow the exact­ing and tedious process required to pro­duce a high-qual­ity oil by hand-har­vest­ing and trans­port­ing the olives to the mill within hours of being picked.

“We are a rel­a­tively small pro­ducer or better, a bou­tique pro­ducer,” he said by way of intro­duc­tion to the fam­i­ly’s approach to pro­duc­ing olive oil. “We deal with each of our trees indi­vid­u­ally: we can say that we ‘listen’ to our trees and give them what they need at the right moment.”

“We nur­ture them like they are our chil­dren,” he added. “The result is a fresh oil with a great smell and flavor, which leaves a unique and sen­sa­tional after­taste in your mouth.”

“I’m very pleased to see that every year more olive oil pro­duc­ers from Slovenia com­pete in NYIOOC,” Jakovčič con­tin­ued, making note of this year’s record number of entries. “Knowing that Slovenia will be a ‘European Culinary Destination 2021’, it’s impor­tant for olive oil pro­duc­ers in Slovenia to show the world that we pro­duce pre­mium extra virgin olive oil. Although we are not an impor­tant player in the indus­try regard­ing quan­tity, I can proudly say that the qual­ity of Slovenian olive oils was always very high.”

To back up this fact, he shares a bit of ancient his­tory: “An inter­est­ing his­tor­i­cal fact, which many people don’t know, comes from the oldest Roman cook­book “Apicius” writ­ten in the first cen­tury AD. The author described the pro­ce­dure of doc­tor­ing cheap, smelly oil from Beatica with minced herbs and roots, to make it smell and taste like the prized oil from Istria.”

“Knowing this and details from a few other his­tor­i­cal records, we can say that the high­est qual­ity olive oil has been pro­duced in our region for thou­sands of years. All the inter­na­tional awards that Slovenian olive oil pro­duc­ers received in the last 10 years just con­firm this fact.”