Monday, November 12, 2007

Croatia Online - Liquid Gold

Every now and then we remember why it takes a lot to beat the Dalmatian way of life. Last Saturday was St Martin's day, when the year's new young wine is christened by "wine bishops". Like most events to do with the land and crops it was a few weeks early this year. As with other produce, the grapes may have been smaller as a result of less rainfall, but they still pack a mighty punch! Dalmatia, on this and other occasions, is about quietly celebrating nature's abundance amongst friends - a far cry from the Beaujolais Nouveau festivities and extravagant private jet flights to bring the first 2007 French wine to whoever can afford the party.

Despite the long preamble, and as you can see from the picture, today's posting is not about wine but Dalmatian Olive Oil. We were priviliged to spend St Martin's day picking olives and watching them turned into something really special.

Ana, one of Croatia Online's special friends, took us to the village of Marušići, south west of Split and Omiš, where her friends are concentrating on getting the best out of the Dalmatian climate and soil in the most eco friendly and taste bud stimulating way. With 270 olive trees, each yielding 25 kilograms of olives, all handpicked, I'm sure there are days when they might find it a little too much like hard work. At our pace - one tree in about three hours, with some help from an agile tree climber picking the olives off the upper branches - we might not be given a job. However there's little to better having a chat under the autumn sun, in clear blue skies, with a view over Hvar and the Pelješac Penisula, pretending to be working the land.

Gentle and very therapeutic manual labour was followed by a brief walk down to the local olive press, kitted out with the best and latest equipment, to watch the olives become the liquid gold that you see above. A little financial help from the EU has been well put to use and each olive grower can see their own olives turned into fresh, pure olive oil, the same day the olives are picked, for a fee of just 150 kunas, regardles of whether they make use of the full 150 kilogram capacity of the press or not. Some years ago olive growers had little choice but to preserve their crop in seawater and make a long journey to the scarce and more old fashioned presses when time permitted and somewhat to the detriment of the end product. Everyone wins from this, particularly the end user who's prepared to source and pay just a little bit more for quality, purity and traceability of the source. We tasted two different fresh oils made from different types of olives and it was like tasting a completely different product - aromas of fruit, no trace of chemicals, and an experience hard to describe by a non professional taster more used to mass produced offerings. Already spoilt, we then had the chance to sample some wine, anchovies, Prošec and Prsut, all home made and cured - a different world even for foodies that take their time looking around the best of London's supermarkets.

It takes 7 to 10 kilograms of olives to make one litre of olive oil; that's about three litres per olive tree. Even in Dalmatia, many of the more expensive supermarket extra virgin olive oils (and some on sale in the markets from those lovely but wise Dalmatian grandmothers) may be mixed with inferior quality, mass produced oil. If you can find the real McCoy, be prepared to pay a little extra for it but it's worth it.

Look out for the name Orgula when you're next in a Croatian supermarket looking for the best olive oil. They're the entrepreneurs behind the high tech olive press that makes life infinitely easier for Dalmatian small holders in Marušići and allows us to capture the image, tastes and smells of olive picking in the flavours of the oil that is bottled on the same day.

And whilst we were enjoying our day on the land, some of the team were out sailing in the Bavadria Cup 2007. For a full report on that, go to our sister site Croatia Cruising Companion


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Croatia takes olive oil very seriously. I just wish it exported more. I went to an olive-oil tasting (like a wine-tasting) and it was explianed to me that the more northerly / cold the region producing the olives, the better the oil. Of course, I was told this in Istria!

9:55 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home