A brief history of olive oil production in Croatia
Olive. It represents the very basis, the essence of agricultural tradition but also the culture of life, both in Dalmatia and in Istria. In Croatia. Quite old as a species, as evidenced by archeological findings more than 9000 years old, which place the activities of collecting olive fruits in the Late Stone Age. More serious cultivation of this plant dates back to the period 5000-6000 years ago in Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine, and from where it spread to the Mediterranean, and thus through the Greeks or Romans - to Croatia.
It was probably several centuries before Christ when the entire Croatian coast became the home of this ancient plant (as well as vines, almonds, and figs). Istria and Dalmatia, including islands, have since been fertile areas for the cultivation of its trees and the production of olive oil. Quite a good one and we can freely say - of top quality. Long ago, even Roman writers recognized it and praised it in their works!
The production of olive oil is evidenced by a stone mill for olives from the 1st century found in the excavations of Salona, a real oil mill, press and storage located within the Roman villa in Muline on the island of Ugljan, as well as a production plant from 11th century in the basements of Diocletian’s palace.
Today, there are millions of olive trees in Dalmatia, and those thousand years old can still be found in places like Pag, Hvar, or Kaštela. The quality is now world-class. And in addition to the commercial significance, olive oil also represents a strong cultural and health component of life in the Mediterranean, including Dalmatia.
Internationally recognized product
Although growing and production activities in Dalmatia somewhat lag behind such activities in Istria, many producers do their job extremely dedicated and without a grain of deviation from the highest standards.
Bright proof of this is the harvest of medals at the New York International Olive Oil Competition , the world’s most important selection of the best olive oils. It is a festival where Croatian and Dalmatian oils simply shine from year to year - this year collecting over 85 medals. Out of that, Istrian producers won 39 medals (32 gold and 7 silver), and Dalmatian 49 (36 + 13). Therefore, this year Croatia is the fourth in the world in the number of medals won, behind Italy, Spain and Greece, and if you look at the ratio of sent and awarded oils, we are the best in the world!
It is evident - Dalmatia has the potential to become one of the best olive-growing regions in the world.
Hinterland & islands of Zadar, Šibenik and Split area
The focus seems to be on varieties such as the indigenous domestic Oblica and Levantinka, but also foreign ones such as Coratina, Frantoio, and Leccino. As for the geographical distribution, this year’s laureates come from all over Dalmatia - from its north to the south.
Thus, we can highlight the brand Sv. Ivan of the company Vodice d.o.o. from Vodice near Šibenik, that won two medals - a gold medal for the Sv. Ivan blend (Frantoio, Leccino, Oblica, Levantinka) and silver for single-variety oil from Oblica; or the famous family farm of Ivica Vlatković from Novigrad near Zadar with two gold medals - for oil from Levantinka and blended varieties Coratina and Leccino. If we go a little further south - to the island of Hvar, we will be delighted with the MMuje brand of the family farm Makjanić Moškatelo , which received, yes - that’s right, a gold medal for its single-variety oil from Levantinka.
Considering those 49 medals, the list of all producers participating was not small. It is obvious - the area of Zadar, Šibenik, and Split and their islands are rich in fertile soil, climate, and passionate and qualified olive growers. And now, we are sure, after reading so much information about the quality of olive oil in Dalmatia, you are wondering: where can I taste and buy this Croatian delicacy, a treasure from the ancient fields of this wonderful southern region?
Experiences that bring you closer to authentic Croatia
This is why we bring you five selected tasting experiences in Dalmatia.
- Tasting of olive oil from the Nadin oil mill near Zadar
This tasting is a real gem that we reveal to you for several reasons ; the first is that the blended oil of Nadin Oil Mill won a gold medal at this year’s NYIOOC and thus once again confirmed its quality. The second is that the owner Željko Vrsaljko has been selflessly involved in the promotion and development of olive growing in Zadar and beyond for decades, insisting on a high level of quality for his oil as well. Finally, this family production is located in the village of Nadin, which has almost so the official status of the most ecological village in Croatia, given the significant number of olive growers and winemakers who base their production on organic principles!
The experience includes a tour of the production plant, getting to know the basics of production, and tasting extra virgin olive oil, which is essentially a small tasting school. Of course, after that, you can also buy the product on the spot.
- Guided tour and olive oil tasting in the ethno-agro park Stella Croatica
This special place in the heart of Dalmatia will delight you with its personality, offer, and atmosphere that brings back the feeling of some ancient times. Here you will learn about the methods of production of traditional delicacies, extraction of essential oils from Mediterranean plants, and of course the production of olive oil.
In addition, you will have the opportunity to visit the newly renovated Olive Oil Museum where you will learn key things about the history of this plant and then taste the extra virgin olive oil and learn how to recognize the truly premium one. Stella Croatica will stay in your heart through this guided tasting that showcases Dalmatia as it once was.
- A unique tasting experience that has been awarded more than a hundred times
At the nationally famous Dušević agritourism they have produced extra virgin olive oil for more than 35 years, while constantly improving and innovating through the investment in state-of-the-art technology and volume growth.
The result is more than 100 trophies and medals. But, more importantly, a unique tasting experience that puts this green-gold liquid in the special context - of local food & olive oil pairing, a small tasting school with a strong educational note (about the production, as well), and of course hanging out with local producers - Mate and his family, while drinking a glass or two of their fine red and white wine.
- A truly authentic experience in the olive oil museum on the island of Brač
In Škrip on the island of Brač, you will learn all about the history of olive growing on this famous Croatian island. In 2013, Kruno Cukrov and his family restored an old oil mill founded by his great-grandfather and his family in 1864, thus launching a truly special story - the story of the Oil Museum, which is today a historical and cultural monument.
There you can see old tools, such as a press machine, spindle for tightening press screws, bags, fireplace for heating the water, and other tools in the production, transport, and storage of this golden liquid that the family is proud of. Today, the family business continues on modern machines, and you can enjoy the fruits of their labor through four different menus that include olive oil tasting, various olive spreads, salted olives, local wine, and other palatable products!
- Sightseeing and storytelling in a modern olive grove center in Vodice
In our selection, there is another oil mill whose oils deserve nothing less than a gold medal at international competitions - oil mill Vodice d.o.o. with its brand Sv. Ivan. Here you will experience a short tour of the production plant, education through a historical overview of production, and of course - tasting of different varieties served with delicious local products such as prosciutto and cheese .
The olive oil center was opened in 2007 and since then the owners have been motivated exclusively by achieving the highest quality standards and results relevant among producers in the Mediterranean and around the world. Such a move is a tribute to their birthplace of Vodice, which has lived, as they say, for olives and olives, for ages. Do not miss to visit the most important place of olive growing in Šibenik-Knin County and beyond!
To discover Croatia, discover its gastronomical history
When we talk about things and phenomena that define Croatia and its regions such as Dalmatia and Istria, the tradition of olive growing and olive oil production is certainly at the top. Because of its history, but also because of the results and quality achieved, which today leave no room for anything other than an even stronger focus on this agricultural branch. And not only through production but through tourism - attracting tourists from all over the world who will come here to try this magnificent product and then love it - forever.
Discover more places where you can taste olive oils in Croatia: