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Croatians’ Pursuit of Quality Pays Off at NYIOOC


Compared with many other European Olive Oil-producing countries who suffered poor harvests during the recently concluded crop season, most producers in Croatia fared much better and many even reported a bumper crop.

A prize like this one can help promote our country and its treasures.– Dimitri Brečević, Clai

Results of the 2017 New York International Olive Oil Competition (NYIOOC) brought more good news for Croatian olive oil, with producers winning a record 22 awards, a huge improvement to the nine awards won last year. The 22 awards included 13 Gold, seven Silver, and two Best in Class Awards.

Most of Croatia’s producers of extra virgin olive oil are small family-run businesses that strictly follow traditional methods. Olives are picked by hand and pressed within 24 hours to ensure high quality, and an increasing number of producers are using organic farming methods. Close to half of this year’s prize winners are organic producers.
See more: The Best Croatian Olive Oils for 2017
Four of the award winning oils hail from the Dalmatian coast, and three from the islands. Notable is the joint entry by the association of olive producers of the island of Šolta: an organic extra virgin olive oil which won them gold.

Žižanj is another island producer to receive gold for their organic blend produced on an island of the same name. This tiny island off the Dalmatian coast is only accessible by boat and is home to the 665 olive trees owned by Roman Urbanija and his family.

Urbanija told Olive Oil Times that he found out about the award on Friday morning when he checked the results on the Internet. “This is the first time we participated in NYIOOC and we are really happy to receive a gold award,” he said. “Of course, we were sure of the superb quality of our oil and the result is always one of high-quality extra virgin olive oil. Despite this, it’s very important for us to have experts taste our oil, and when they give us this result, we can only be happy that our hard work has been rewarded.”

Eighteen of Croatia’s 22 awards went to producers in Istria, Croatia’s westernmost region, a peninsula tucked in the Adriatic Sea. Olive oil from Istria has received a lot of attention in the past few years.

The two olive oils to win Best in Class awards are both produced in Istria. M’ Olive Oil won Best in Class for North Hemisphere delicate, while Vergal Frantoio was judged the best North Hemisphere monovarietal delicate. The latter is produced by Aminess hotel group in Novigrad, northwestern Istria, an unlikely but clearly exceptional producer.

Mladen Knežević, sales and marketing director for the group revealed that this was the first time their Vergal Frantoio was entered in a competition: “In previous years we participated in smaller competitions, mainly in Istria and Italy, where our oil was awarded a certificate of exceptional quality. We are extremely happy and proud to win Best in Class at NYIOOC 2017, but we can’t say it was unexpected.”

“From the very beginning, we set a clear goal for Vergal Frantoio to become a recognizable brand of premium extra virgin olive oil and we have been investing heavily in the entire production process for years. Until now, Vergal Frantoio was only available for purchase in our hotels and camps, so this achievement is an incentive for us to widen distribution,” Knežević said.

Two Istrian producers also won two awards each: Agroprodukt took two golds for its Salvela Aurum and Salvela Buza, while Stancija San Antonio received a gold for their Karbonaca, and a Silver for its Buza Zenska Vodnjanska.

Marijan Marjanović of the family-owned Stancija San Antonio was watching the results live online from his home in Vodnjan, south Istria. He told us this was not the first time his organic oil has won multiple awards at the same competition: “At NYIOOC 2013, all four oils we entered won awards: three golds and one silver, and we have won over 20 awards in the last four years. But by winning at NYIOOC, we prove to ourselves that we are producing a good product that the world’s top tasters have rated among the best.”

Meanwhile in Zurich, Switzerland, Daniel Bellani of Terra Rossa was also eagerly watching results despite the late hour in Europe. “I was watching the live broadcast online while my father and grandfather back in Istria were already sleeping,” Bellani told Olive Oil Times. “When I realized after midnight that we won gold again, I was so excited that I sent my father a WhatsApp message. As for my 94-year-old grandfather, he heard the good news the next morning and celebrated by putting on a suit and posing for pictures with my father and a bottle of our oil.”

Monte Rosso in northern Istria is celebrating a Gold Award at NYIOOC

For this three-generation family producer of organic extra virgin olive oil, this was not the first time achieving success at NYIOOC. “This is the third year in a row that we’ve won awards at NYIOOC,” said Bellani. “It takes a lot of effort to make a very good olive oil. But when I see the joy it gives us and what incredible feedback we get from our friends, customers and family, this motivates me to continue our work to produce an authentic and honest olive oil.”

Last year it was silver, but this year Slaven Deležan of Monte Rosso in northern Istria is celebrating a Gold Award at NYIOOC. “It’s a really great feeling to get a Gold at NYIOOC and we’re very proud of it,” he shared. “Such an award is important for us because firstly it shows the world what we can do. Also, this is proof that we’re on the right track and progressing every year. And of course, this is also great promotion for us in the global sense, because it makes us visible to lovers of the highest quality olive oil all over the world, which for a new brand and new producer is really a mark of success beyond all expectations.”

The Zanini family in Banjole at Istria’s southernmost tip had an excellent harvest and the news that their Nonno Bruno oil won a Gold at NYIOOC, after a Silver in 2016 and Gold Awards in 2014 and 2015, confirmed that it’s been a great season.

“We are very proud because this means we are one of the best producers of olive oil in the world,” said Davor Zanini about the award, “but the most important thing for us is quality, not quantity. We press our oil in our own mill, and store it in optimal conditions. Also, for us, it’s very important to learn something new. That’s why we try to attend as many educational seminars as we can. Basically, for us, the most important thing is to grow in quality and not quantity.”

For another family-run producer in Bale, South Istria, it was first time lucky. Tea Cergna and her family experienced the thrill of winning a Gold Award after competing in NYIOOC for the first time. “Even though it was already pretty late in Croatia when the winners were announced, we were following the awards live,” she recounted. “When we saw that Perdisacca won gold, we started to enthusiastically text and call each other to share the news.”

Gold Award winner Perdisacca

“We consider this Gold Award as the Oscar for extra virgin olive oil producers. NYOOC is highly esteemed as a competition, the panel of judges is very professional and, let’s be honest, it opens a lot of doors. Having been part of many competitions so far, we can say for sure that NYIOOC has the best logistics as far as the process for sending in oil samples goes. Kudos also for the live streaming of the award ceremony.”

It was also Gold for first-time NYIOOC participants Clai, producers of high-quality olive and wine for the past 25 years in the white clay earth of Krasica in northern Istria. Dimitri Brečević, Clai’s manager, sees the win as recognition of their hard work, and pointed out that in order to achieve quality, their focus was on “organic production from the beginning, as it’s the only way we know to reach perfection and create excellent products, but also practice sustainable agriculture.”

Brečević also sees the award as much-needed recognition for Croatian olive oils: “Olive oil from Croatia is not so well known even though the quality is excellent, so a prize like this one can help promote our country and its treasures. The culture of olive oil in Istria is a few thousand years old and we’re proud to continue this tradition.”

Another NYIOOC first-timer among this year’s Gold Award winners are Marija Vareško and her family, who resurrected the groves of their ancestors near Pula in south Istria almost ten years ago when they planted new olives alongside centuries-old trees and created the olive oil brand Dolija. This was the first time they entered their oil made with Bjelica, an indigenous Istrian olive variety, in a competition.

Marija Vareško and her family resurrected the groves of their ancestors in south Istria and created the brand Dolija.

Vareško shared her reaction: “I’m very happy we won a gold award. I just couldn’t believe my eyes and kept checking the website to make sure we really won. When I told the rest of the family and the friends who help us with harvesting year after year, they were thrilled. An award from NYIOOC is the greatest confirmation of our work. This is also a reward for our ancestors whose legacy we continue. Croatia is slowly and surely gaining recognition year after year as a country producing high-quality extra virgin olive oil and we’re happy to be part of this.”

When Elena Lupić and her family checked results online on Friday morning, they were pleased to see that their Rosignola variety olive oil Bembo had won a Silver the night before in New York. Based in Bale, South Istria, the Lupić family had won several international awards, including a Gold at NYIOOC 2014, and a Silver at NYIOOC 2015. Lupić said the international award brings an added value compared to local competitions because the olive oils being judged are among the best in the world: “Winning any kind of award is always something special for us but this one will help in the promotion of our olive oil.”

Meanwhile further north in the olive groves of Monte Cucco near Buje, Mili Kus is celebrating her first international award: a Silver for her organic Oliva Lucia extra virgin olive oil. After winning a few local awards, she decided it was time to set her sights higher: “Last year I won only one award but since this year my yield has increased three-fold, I decided to enter the New York competition,” she told Olive Oil Times.

The Lupić family farm in Bale, South Istria

“I heard about NYIOOC last year through the Olive Oil Times newsletter. I watched the opening remarks and presentations of the competition online and saw that the participants were producers who looked like me, and not corporate tycoons dressed in designer suits, which was comforting.”

“I was too tired to watch the entire proceedings but when I got up on Friday morning,” Kus said, “the first thing I did was look at the NYIOOC website. I couldn’t believe it when I saw Oliva Lucia in the list of winners. Winning this award is the best feedback and a great way to get brand recognition as well as recognition that all my hard work is paying off. Curtis Cord really nailed it on the head during his opening remarks when he said that years of hard work go into making a quality oil. This really made me feel appreciated as a small producer.”

This record level of success for Croatian olive oils at NYIOOC, including two Best in Class awards, has further cemented Croatia’s place on the map of olive oil-producing countries. Though Croatia is still a small producer that can’t compete with other European olive oil-making giants like Italy or Spain, it has proven that quantity is certainly not everything and that consumers are increasingly looking for high quality and authenticity when selecting their olive oil. It is clearly Croatian producers’ focus on quality and not quantity that is earning them the international recognition they deserve.




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