Saturday, March 21, 2009

Croatia Online - Šolta The Island Of Olives

One of the most interesting parts of our trip to Šolta was a tour provided by Olynthia - various stops amidst their scattered olive groves near Donje Selo; along a track to the south side of the island for a spectacular view of the Adriatic and Vis island (see previous posting); and back to their olive oil processing plant for a tasting and to see how the fruits of one of the Mediterranean's hardiest and most versatile trees, turns into a liquid of exceptional quality that is good enough to drink, let alone drizzle over your food. In the summer season, or by arrangement, the tour also includes a cooling swim, lunch or dinner, and can start from Trogir or Split, or direct from Šolta. At around 350 kn including a feryy or boat trip from the mainland, it's a snip.
From the start to the end of the tour you will see that the best olive oil comes from a perfect combination of tradition and technology. Purists may question their own values - whilst it might be "quaint" to see olives being pressed in time honoured style, you will discover that doesn't make for the best elixir. Premium extra virgin olive oil comes from olives that are processed with minimum exposure to light, heat and air. Technology however is only the watchword in the processing of the olives; the growing and care of the trees and groves, to produce the best fruit, relies on traditional principles and expert knowledge, passed down the generations through centuries. That means extensive rather than intensive cultivation, no chemicals, preparing the ground properly to take out the rocks, careful pruning so that each branch has maximum exposure to sunlight, cutting the grass regularly around the trees, and watching out for any disease. The way olives are picked also has a bearing on the final quality of the oil - all of Olynthia's olives are hand picked, rather than shaken and collected off the ground and the picking is timed to get the fruit at its very best and process it as quickly as posible.
Native to Asia minor and perhaps the oldest known cultivated tree in the world, Šolta's olive trees were probably first planted by the Greeks in the 4th Century BC and thence started the legends and history that reflect their incredible attributes and significance. Olive trees don't demand the same care that grapevines do and they withstand Šolta's rocky terrain, droughts, winds and heat. More than that, the roots survive periodic wildfires and the longevity is renowned - see Croatia Online - Croatia's Oldest Olive Tree? for a picture on one of Dalmatia's oldest specimens.
Listen to afficionados and experts and you will believe that the best Croatian extra virgin olive oil can cure almost anything without any side effects. Pay attention to Olynthia and you will find out where, how and why, as well as getting an insight into Šolta's history and why the olive tree has played such an important role. If you're lucky, you'll also get to taste Šolta's local wine, Dobričić, now discovered to be the genetic forefather of Croatia and California's better known and acclaimed varieties - Plavac and Zinfandel.
To say much more would be to spoil the discoveries you will make on the tour. However, we were left so full of fascinating insights and information that it may be hard to resist another posting or two on the subject.
Thanks to Frane, Anja, Stipe and Robert for enabling this visit - certainly one to be remembered and hopefully to be repeated at another time in the olive tree's cycle. We've already done a little bit of picking and seen the end result - see Croatia Online - Olive Picking In Omis - it would be great to see the olive groves of Šolta in full harversting swing, but the time of year doesn't detract from the quality of the tour.
Today's photo is of the gourmet tasting provided for us at Olynthia and we were lucky enough to return with some of last year's nectar, bottled and packaged, as we waited, in award winning style.


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