Istrian Olive Oil : The Finest Olive Oil Trails in Istria
Why is Istrian olive oil one of the best in the world
The ancient Romans considered it the most exquisite in all the Empire. The Greeks believed the first tree to have been planted by the goddess Athena, making it a divine fruit. And two thousand years later, Istria has just been crowned the one of the best growing regions in the world, with over 50 listed producers. But if you’re not yet familiar with Istrian olive oil, you may be a little surprised to see Istrian names appearing on lists of the world’s best olive oils. Let’s take a look at what makes this Istrian gold some of the most sought after and delicious in the world.
Producing Istrian olive oil
If you pluck a ripe olive from the tree and try to eat it, you’ll have a rather unpleasant surprise; it’s bitter and completely inedible in its raw state. But, as the ancients discovered, a little bit of care and attention turns the bitter berry into a very valuable vegetable oil that has countless uses. From a medicinal elixir or panacea to a delicious culinary condiment, from a body care ointment to an ancient religious balm, this queen of all trees is the source of divine fruit that flows with liquid gold. But just how do Istrians release the precious, priceless oil from the fruit?
Unlike many international olive oil producers, the majority of Croatian, and particularly Istrian, producers still harvest the age-old way, on family-run farms. Here the olives are hand picked by gangs of local pickers before being cleaned and crushed whole at the oil mill. The resulting peppery paste is then pressed, without the use of water, until droplets start to form and the precious, flavorful extra virgin olive oil is extracted. It is processed, bottled and packed locally, all on the same day, resulting in an extremely high quality extra-virgin olive oil. Much of the oil is produced organically as many trees, at well over 50 years old, were planted before the use of pesticides began.
And not only is Istrian olive oil beautifully handmade, but it is also part of the region’s history. Many olive groves are planted with some of the 20 ancient indigenous varieties such as buža, istarska bjelica and oblica that produce anything from 200 to 450 tons of olive oil every year, depending on conditions. That equates to over 10% of the total Croatian production of olive oil so it’s clear just how significant Istria’s contribution is.
Olive oil is extremely healthy with high levels of unsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols, acting as hugely beneficial antioxidants that can lower cholesterol levels. Plus Istrian olive oil is renowned for its wonderfully aromatic nature, with fresh, lush flavors that are produced by the slightly cooler Croatian climate. So it turns out that science now proves what the ancient Greeks and Romans in Istria knew over 2,000 years ago: Istrian olive oil is a truly wonderful, delicious, high-quality product. Fabulous, right?!
Where to taste olive oil in Istria
Touring through the Istrian region of Croatia is a beautiful experience. Carefully clipped vines and ancient, gnarled olive groves stretch out as far as the eye can see across low, rolling hills. And the vista is only broken by the occasional traditional farmhouse, hilltop village or breathtaking glimpse of the Adriatic coast. But if you prefer to learn more about the fine flavors of Croatian olive oils, rather than just admiring the view, a private gourmet tour of medieval Istrian towns in the perfect present for pleasure-seeking gastronomers!
And just as vine varieties influence the characteristics of wines, so do olive types, growing conditions and environmental factors impact the flavors that permeate exquisite Istrian oils. Stop off at one of Croatia’s premium olive growers to learn how to taste test oils like a pro and detect the delicious, delicate characteristics that characterize the different “vintages.” From the freshly-cut grass and green apple aromas of a Bjelica oil to the slightly peppery palate of Crna oils, it’s an entirely new world of flavors.
And instead of trying it drizzled over bread, Istrian olive oil is best tasted in a small, blue glass. The glass should be cradled in the palm of your hand so that the oil is gently warmed to body temperature at the same time your other hand covers the top, trapping the fabulous fragrances until you lift the lid and inhale. Trust me, you’ll be amazed at the explosion of tangy scents that assail your nostrils; and that’s before you’ve even taken a sip!
Or if you really want to explore Istria’s epicurean culture, add a day of truffle hunting with a local–Croatia is home to three delicious types of black truffles and Istria boasts some of the largest white truffles ever unearthed. Between its tangy olive oils and pungent truffles, Istria really is heaven for food lovers!
Istria is 2016’s most prolific olive region
The Flos Olei official handbook of olive oils, ranks global oils each year citing Istria as an area of exceptional gastronomic production. And this year Istria, with its 50 different olive producers, numbered more olive growers than the Italian region of Tuscany, which until this latest issue had been dominated the publication. So if you’ve never explored this little-known liquid gold, our fabulously friendly travel experts are on hand to help you tailor your vacation to take in some Istrian olive oil producers. Its definitely a treat for foodies and a must for gourmets. In the meantime, leave us a comment with your favorite Croatian memories. Happy travels and bon appétit!