Passion drives Oleum Viride extra virgin olive oil brand from Istria to the world’s top

Duilio Belic is a man who takes no compromise when it comes to quality. This humble and pleasant man from Istria stands behind one of the world’s best extra virgin olive oils: his Oleum Viride brand ranks world’s number one in the category “frutato intenso”, the intense fruitiness. A heavy acknowledgment to handle, some might say, but it goes so natural with Duilio and his wife Bosiljka – it’s their second time in the last couple of years that their produce – the fruit juice of olive, as they call it – goes sky high. It’s a great passion of theirs and a life’s philosophy.

Flos Olei – the Bible on extra virgin olive oil

Independent Italian expert Marco Oreggia and his team taste and evaluate hundreds of extra virgin olive oils from around the globe each year, rank them in several categories, having 100 points as top score and compile them in the Flos Olei world’s premier guidebook on extra virgin olive oil. Belic brand Oleum Viride scored 96 out of 100 points in category “frutato intenso”, the intensive fruit flavor in oil for the 2012 edition. For a connoisseur, Flos Olei is a Bible, of a sort, and a clear sign that the green liquid gold, as olive oil is sometimes called, is excellent in all of its aspects.

Ipsa & Zigante olive oil score high

In the 2012 edition, Istria has in total of 43 extra virgin olive oil brands listed (out of 52 brands that were submitted). More important is that each year the quality of Istrian extra virgin olive oil is getting better – there are some 15 brands scoring more than 90 points. Just to mention two other important producers from Istria – Claudio Ipsa who continues to score high each year, reached 96 in his category while Giancarlo Zigante won 95 points for the biological production, the highest in this category.

Belic family produces 11 varieties of olive oil

The Belic family has always aimed high pushing the quality each year to a new level. They produce in total of 11 extra virgin olive oils including ten mono varieties: the Italian varieties of ascolana tenera, itrana, leccino, pendolino, casaliva, cipressino and frantoio and natives to Istria – istarska bjelica, buza, rosulja and vodnjanska crnica while the Selection Belic is a coupage of Istrian and Italian varieties. The bottle of Oleum Viride has been awarded the acclaimed “red dot” for the label design.

Interesting things is, Duilio often explains, that the olive varieties native to Italy – such as pendolino, frantoio or ascolana tenera – that are grown in Istria produce olive oil of higher quality and superior taste and flavor. For that reason, he is very proud to point out that the Tuscans have started buying his olive oil in larger quantities lately…

I’ve spent a comfortable afternoon with Duilio and his wife Bosiljka in their tasting venue located in a little town of Rabac on the east coast of Istria where, during windy times under the typical bura (bora) wind you can see the islands of Cres and Unije stretching in front of the fjord-like bay.

Oleum Viride – handpicking the olives of different ripening stages

The growing and the production process are very closely watched, Dulio started to explain the story.  The olive groves are located near Fazana (south of Istria) where the olives of different ripening stages are all handpicked and cold processed within 24 hours of the harvest. The oil is then put into inox barrels at 18 degrees Celsius (64 F). This procedure of picking olives of different ripening stages was called oleum viride by the Romans, who had highly respected olive groves in Istria some 2 thousand years ago. Following the same principles, the Belics named their label Oleum viride.

For that reason do not be surprised to learn that the Oleum Viride bottle comes with a hefty price tag – the 250 ml bottle is priced at some 20 EUR (8 fl.oz per $27) roughly and depending on the market. The brand features a wide variety of different sized bottles packaged in a black wooden box that makes an elegant gift.

Local fresh produce of highest quality

Aside his basic philosophy in producing oil, Duilio Belic also follows very basic credo of pairing the olive oil with domestic, local and fresh produce and food with minimal or basically no thermal preparations. That means no cooking. He started to explain the idea to Istrian restaurant owners a decade ago setting the trail for today’s gourmet lifestyle that is quite evident in Istria. Restaurants today carry his olive oil and the bottles are particularly handy since the cap of the bottle wont let you spill a drop more than intended.

And then the feast has begun. First plate – mozarella, domestic tangerines and white grapes were paired with leccino oil with a glass of Bencic young malvasia (Bencic label won the title for the best young malvasia at this year’s Vinistra, Istria’s most important wine fair and the motor for wine culture and lifestyle). Leccino gave  its fruitiness to the gentle mozzarella whilst soft and mineral malvasia gave a gentle touch to it.

Sardines marinated in tangerine juice

I was delighted by the softness and the texture of fresh sardines marinated in tangerine juice with Belic selection, a coupage of Italian and Istrian olive varieteis of leccino, frantoio, pendolino, vodnjanska crnica, istarska bjelica and buza. Smoked salmon with itrana oil and reduced aceto balsamico from Modena went great with a glass of Matosevic Alba, the barrique malvasia from acacia barrels. The acacia flavor, a signature taste to Matosevic’s aged malvasias, was an intelligent match with the smokiness of the salmon while the reduced aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar) gave that higher touch to this freshly prepared dish. Again, all fresh produce, no cooking but pure taste!

Salted anchovies wrapped around tangerines and marinated in buza, Istria’s typical and beloved oil loved for its intense fruit flavor with a twist of aromatic herbs of artichokes and apples – gave a very round taste to the dish. Again, Malvasia Alba with its aromatic taste was a good match.

Leccino and vanilla ice-cream

A traditional dish to December time of the year – bakalar na bijelo, a cod paté on a piece of bread with frantoio oil was a perfect combination of strong taste, fine texture of the pate and the spiciness of frantoio, Italian variety from Tuscany. The surprise of the day was the excellent combination of vanilla ice-cream with leccino olive oil – leccino’s gentleness enhanced the vanilla’s flavor. So far chocolate ice-creams or chocolate cakes were a typical high cuisine dessert in Istria but I think vanilla with leccino could just be my favorite for the time being.

Another interesting combination was skuta (fresh cow cheese, similar to ricotta and typical to Istrian cuisine) was paired with acacia honey and two oil varieties: itrana (my first try of this intense oil tasting like ripe tomato and aromatic herbs was quite soft) and ascolana tenera (this well balanced spicy and bitter oil was a good companion to skuta and honey). At the end I’ve realized that each oil is a story of its own – it has its own personality (the Belics say, half jokingly, that each oil is a like a child to them).

It’s still a hobby…

Wrapping up the delicious little appetizer that we’ve tasted, Duilio shared his thoughts that this year could just be excellent due to lots of sunny days we’ve had throughout the year. And I certainly look forward to it. Belic family produces some 6 to 8 thousand bottles of olive oil annually, it’s still a hobby, says Duilio; they’re investing a lot but enjoy it equally. Bosiljka runs the business while Duilio takes on the banking industry in Zagreb, the capital, as his day time job. The weekends are dedicated to their family and olive oil. Passion and love – it’s all about life’s basic truths when it comes to Duilio Belic and his Oleum Viride extra virgin olive oil…

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