Quality olive oil – a Croatian grower’s tips

October 3, 2018 — No comments

Olive oil – a Croatian grower’s tips

Croatia is emerging as one of the best olive-growing regions in the world. The country’s growers are winning more gold medals at international olive oil competitions every year.

When I stayed at a charming country inn in small-town Pirovac, Croatia, I met the owner, Zdenka.

Zdenka has German roots but grew up in Croatia. Her spic-and-span, jewel of a guesthouse Kleine Hexe (Little Witch), is located right by the beach. Staying overnight, I understand why guests have become friends, returning year-after-year.

During harvest season between end of October and mid January, Zdenka helps her husband with the harvesting and pressing of olives. They own 300 trees located on several patches of land around the hotel.

As many other small scale farmers do in this area, the manually crafted oil is used for their own family and hotel guests.

Above photos: Guest house Kleine Hexe on the Croatian coast https://www.hexe-pirovac.com/

Hand-harvested & pressed olive oil

Olive oilZdenka explains that a ripe olive is black in color.

Local olive growers influence the taste of the oil by determining the stage of picking. To wait until the fully ripe black olives fall off the tree is one way. This results in a ‘sweeter’ tasting oil.

Some farmers pick all or some of the olives when still green. The flavor of the oil will be bitter and sharp.

To decrease general bitterness in the oil, many regional farmers put the freshly harvested olives in ocean water for 1-3 days. This drives out the bitter flavour of the remaining protein of naturally occurring vermins in the olive. The result is a milder tasting, but not salty, oil.

Oil content differs according to variety, and there are hundreds!

Croatian olives with 10-15% oil content are slightly larger in size than Italian olives, which boast up to 20% oil content. Italian olives are more troublesome to pick though because of their small size.

Irrespective of variety, every freshly pressed oil will be cloudy for the first six months of storage, when the particles of solid matter have settled on the container bottom.

Freshest quality oil results if the olives are pressed immediately after picking or soaking.

Olive oil color & quality

“Color is an indicator of age, but not quality”, Zdenka continues. Freshly pressed olive oil is dark in color and will get subsequently lighter during year two and three. Variety, maturity & how the oil was derived from the olive are the most important factors determining quality & flavour.

Harvesting season begins at the end of October until mid January and ten kilograms of olives will yield about 1 liter of oil.

If possible, Zdenka recommends to purchase olive oil directly from a producer or a distributor whom you trust as mixing olive oil with other vegetable oils and then selling it as 100% olive oil unfortunately is very common in the commercial industry.

“Panched olive oil, even to 50%, cannot be detected by taste”, says Zdenka. One test, however, if you put olive oil in the freezer (which won’t affect quality, nor does refrigeration), the faster the oil freezes solid, the more likely that it is pure olive oil.

Extra virgin olive oil

Extra virgin is the highest grade of olive oil. It is unrefined and contains more nutrients compared to other processed varieties. It is pure fruit juice, so to speak.

Unfortunately, there is no set standard or certification in many parts of the world and much mislabelling is happening, even in some well-known brands. California is one of the few regions that has a state law regulating the term ‘extra virgin’ olive oil in terms of purity.

History and mythology

Olive trees are among the oldest known cultivated trees in the world, long before language was written down!

Native to Asia Minor, olive trees & culture spread from Iran, Syria and Palestine to the rest of the Mediterranean basin 6,000 years ago, then carried over to the early Greeks and Romans, who brought olive & oil with them in sephoras wherever they went. In more recent times, the olive tree spread to North and South America, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

The Greeks anointed athletes with olive oil and there are many references in several world religions to the olive and the oil. The Garden of Gethsemane means “oil press”.

Olive oil for health and skin

It is said that just a drop or two of extra virgin olive oil on a cotton pad is all it takes to gently and effectively remove eye makeup without irritating the delicate skin around the eye area. If used consistently, maybe olive oil can soften the skin around the eyes and smooth out wrinkles, too?

Research has determined various health benefits of olive oil which are destroyed to a great degree when the oil is heated, especially to smoking point. As with so many other fresh products, olive oil’s beneficial nutrients are optimally maintained when eaten raw, e.g. in salad dressings or drizzled over appetizers and cooked food.

Olive oil

Croatian olive oil wins gold medals

Out of 45 entries at the 2018 Official Index of the World’s Best Olive Oil, Croatian farmers won 40 awards for their olive oil entries.

This 89% success rate compares favourably to a success rate of between 32% and 62% of farmer entries’ from countries such as Italy, Greece and Spain.

Maybe you will soon see (or ask for) one of these award winning Croatian brands of olive oil in your local grocery store. Here the link to the 2018 Official index winning brands:  https://bestoliveoils.com/country/croatia

About Silvia and Swiss Wanderlust


Switzerland travel enthusiast. Cat lover, bicyclist and classical music fan. I prefer walking over running and enjoy a good Swiss card game of Jass with friends.  More about Silvia and Swiss Wanderlust »

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