It’s a known fact the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world and olive oil takes an important part in it. Olive oil symbolizes healthy lifestyle and longevity since it contains unsaturated fatty and oleic acids, it’s rich in antioxidants and polyphenoles that medical research has proved to have significant impact on the overall well-being. The Greeks and the Romans left rich heritage of olive oil production in Istria: the mills and the amphorae have been recovered from the Island of Brijuni along with a 1600 year-old grove planted there. Istrian soil, the climate and the terrains were the reasons while the first olive oil groves were planted here more than two millenniums ago.
Today you will find a handful of olive varieties – domestic Istrian and Italian varieties that grow very well on the red and white Istrian soil: buza, istarska bjelica, crnica, karbonaca and rosinjola, the most recognizable domestic ones and leccino, pendolino and frantoio among those introduced. Istria grows 1.5 million olive oil groves and with a boutique production, especially of the extra virgin olive oil, has a considerable price tag: the average of 20 EUR per liter. And that’s the way it should be, the olive oil producers are unanimous, because the quality if impeccable.
These high quality standards are the reason why 44 Istrian extra virgin olive oil producers have been listed in the Flos Olei guidebook on world’s best extra virgins. In the guidebook, formerly known as L’extravergine and compiled by Italian expert Marco Oreggia, you will find the extra virgin olive oils by Bursic and Ipsa family.
I visited Marija Bursic and her family in the village of Nova Vas in the north-western part of Istria. Marija is a very pleasant woman, very proud of her heritage, her land and her olive groves. The whole family is in business with olive oils today – a business that started just as a hobby at first.
Their tasting room feels like a sanctuary when I enter from 35 plus degrees outside: the pleasant 20 degrees is not only soothing for the precious little dark green bottles but my sanity as well. I don’t think I know how to live without olive oil. And discovering new olive oil is a pure pleasure, and more – I feel like being fed pure nature, health and beauty. That’s why olive oil has been called the „liquid gold“ (thousands of years ago, Cleopatra used it to prolong longevity and the beauty for his skin, hair and wellbeing).
The Bursic family produced four mono varietal oils (pendolino, leccino, buza and istarska bjelica) and their selection called De Kleva. Only this year they have won seven national awards and a few international. “The awards help us promote the oil but also push us forward to maintain the level of quality and excellence” says Marija and starts pouring her oils one after the other in small plastic tasting cups in front of me.
To taste the oils properly, you have to take the cup in your palm, cover it with one hand and wait for 10 seconds until the oil releases all of its essences. Then sip and turn the oil around in between your teeth before swallowing.
The first oil is the leccino variety, Tuscan type of olives popular in Istria since 1940s because of its adaptability to all conditions and resistance to sicknesses. The color is beautiful gold, clear and the full smell of green olive you embraces my nose up in an instant. It’s very nice and harmonic oil. Of course, there is the inevitable bread and some water aside (it’s good to take a little bread before switching to the next oil to clear the throat). This oil pairs well with vegetable dishes, meat and also fish and clamps.
Marija explains their olive oil groves lay in a specific terrain: on greenly slopes coming down towards the river Mirna valley, with special micro climate, lots of sun and air. All olives are handpicked and cold presses the same day.
Pendolino is next – the recognizable smell of this Tuscan type variety and taste of fresh mown grass fills my nostrils. Now I have some bread and cheese while Marija pours more oil on top – oh, fantastic! It goes great paired with typical Istrian manestra or grilled meat. Then the Istria’s indigenous variety is buza – very aromatic and fresh oil, easily loved. It goes great with fish, salads …
The strongest of the crowd is by far the Istarska bjelica – very soft on the nose (quite deceiving!) but very strong and peppery in the throat – I now have to take some Istrian prosciutto (smoked ham) to balance the aromas. This oil is in particular good with grilled meat because of its strong flavor.
We finish our tasting session with very harmonic selection Bursic and with home grown tomatoes. The selection called De Kleva (a nick name to their family) is a combination of bjelica, leccino and pendolino with dark green color with clean green smell with a bit of green apple. This oil is great for salads and fish.
Very successful and proud Istrian olive oil producer is Klaudio Ipsa – his family produced the first extra virgin olive oil to be listed in the then L’extravergine in 2005 – today known as Flos Olei - and all years afterwards. His 5000 hectares groves sit on a specific terrain in the village of Ipsi overlooking the medieval town of Motovun just across. The incline gives the groves a shelter from fog and cold and protects the varieties planted – istarska bjelica, buza and crnica (domestic) and leccino, pendolino and frantoio (the Italian varieties).
His wife Irene welcomes me to their tasting room with traditional Istrian fireplace occupying the most of the room in the stone house that belonged to their grandparents – something Klaudio is very proud of and will mention every time. The whole family is included in the production with chores divided – Klaudio takes care of the groves that are handpicked and cold pressed the same day. He attirubutes “great love of his family” invested in producing the olive oil as very important, along with the quality control of the production process and the specific location in which the groves are grown.
Bursic and Ipsa and many others will take part at the extra virgin olive oil gourmet day during presenting their extra virgin olive oils at the Istria Gourmet festival at the ATP Croatian Open in Umag starting Thursday, July 21.