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Vodnjan – medieval mummies, world famous extravirgin olive oil and gastro heaven

by Gogo on December 4, 2009

in Olive oils

If you are crazy about dicovering new and unusual sensory experiences come to Vodnjan. In this small town near Pula, you won’t remain indifferent when you see the mummies of six saints and you will be thrilled when you taste Vodnjan’s extravirgin olive oil. There are so many different kinds of olive oils here, that it is best to come at the end of November when a gastronomic event dedicated to young olive oil – “The Days of Young Olive Oil” – takes place. Last weekend I visited the event and in just three days managed to taste more than 20 oils.

The Days of Young Olive Oil in Vodnjan

The Days of Young Olive Oil in Vodnjan

This year more than 18.000 visitors came to “The days” not only to taste more than 150 olive oils from 50 producers, but also to enjoy homemade pickled olives and cakes made with olive oil, local sausages, salami, cured ham (pršut), wines and various grappas. The event is perceived so important for the local community that it got high patronage of the President of Croatia Stjepan Mesić, Ministry of Agriculture and Istrian County. Marco Oreggia the editor of “Extravergine – A Guide to the Best Certified Quality Olive Oil in the World” and a world-renowned authority in olive oil tasting, visited the fair and gave a talk “Croatian position in the world olive growing sector”.

Renaissance of the autochtonous Istrian olive cultivars

The most of time I spent crawling from one olive oil producers to the other, each time tasting 2-3 oils (here is a short guide on how to do the olive oil tasting properly). I noticed two very positive trends on the local olive oil scene.

The first trend is that there was plenty of oils made solely from autochtonous Istrian olive sorts, or cultivars – Buža, Bjelica, Karbonaca, Rošinjola, Moražola, Žižolera… These oils are becoming very popular since their aroma, taste and character is different from oils from Leccino, Pendolino and Frantoio – Tuscan cultivars popular all over the world. I heard that local olive oil producers are now planting mostly the autochonous varieties in the new olive groves. In my opinion, it is a very wise decision. Istria has to offer to the world olive oils that simply taste different and are closely linked to the territory where they are produced.

Monocultivar olive oils

The second trend is the popularity of monocultivar olive oils – the oils made from only one olive variety (cultivar). The choice to separate different cultivars doesn’t necessarily lead to an oil of better quality oil but it is used to produce oils with different aroma/taste qualities and intensities. If you mix everything it may happen that a cultivar with the strongest aroma/taste overwhelms subtleties of all the others.

Monocultivar olive have a tremendous importance in haute cuisine where often a chéf will search for an oil whose flavor, aroma and intensity pair well with a dish. For example, strong and spicy oils are good for dipping bread or bruschette, while mild and herbacious ones are perfect to pour over delicate fish.

To filter or not to filter olive oil?

I noticed that most of the big olive oil producers in Istria (but also worldwide) choose to filter their oil right after it exits from olive mill. In a previous post I explained why plant material that floats in young oil needs to be removed within 2-3 months from the date of production, otherwise the oil will soon acquire unpleasant rotten and muddy aroma and taste. Interestingly, these filtered young oils had weaker and less complex aroma compared to young oils of small-scale producers (usually a family that owns olive groves) that only decant but do not filter their oil.

That evening I became confused and did not know who is right and who is wrong? The big or small olive oil producers? Is filtering absolutely necessary or not?

To solve this dilemma, I posed few questions to Prof. Lanfranco Conte from Food Science Department of University of Udine after his talk about molecules responsible for aroma and taste of olive oil.

Microdroplets of water in young olive oil

Microdroplets of water in young olive oil

-How does filtering change young olive oil?
Filtering is very brutal. It removes the plant material and that is fine because the oil will not get a smell of rot over time.
The drawback is that it also removes microdroplets of vegetative water that also float in the oil. These microdroplets are important since inside them there is a lot of polyphenols – molecules of enormous importance because they bring aroma and taste to olive oil. Inevitably, filtered oil will have less intense aroma and flavors compared to unfiltered one.

-Polyphenols are also good for your health?
Exactly. One of them is hydroxytyrosol and this tiny molecule it is believed to be one of the most powerful antioxidants. It can be find only in extravirgin olive oil and gives it the bitter taste. More bitter is the oil, more healthier it is.
-Are there any alternatives to filtering?
In first 2-3 months the best strategy would be to only decant the oil from the deposit it will form on the bottom of container. Then in January, if the oil does not become crystal clear, you have to filter it. Otherwise, you risk too much.
-Thank you so much!
You’re welcome.

I wonder if it would be possible to design a filter that removes only plant material but leaves precious polyphenols and aroma/taste molecules in the olive oil. Any experts in nanotechnology here?

At the end, here are some olive oils I managed to taste in Vodnjan. All of them were unfiltered.

Olea B.B. – a company specialized for monocultivar olive oils is  They presented eight oils made from Buža, Bjelica, Karbonaca, Rošinjola, Leccino, Cipressino, Frantoio and Ascolana Tenera. I tried the oil from Ascolana Tenera that is an table olive variety from Italy but it is also used for making oil. Not a surprise since the oil was excellent, the fruitiest oil I ever tried – in the nose you feel mature tomato and apples, very mild and sweet, it is equilibrated and persistent in the mouth. The oil from Rošinjola was a great surprise, fruity at first and slightly bitter, but then it becomes excitingly spicy. An oil with a distinctive character.

Monocultivar olive oils are trendy

Olea B.B. presented eight monocultivar olive oils

Vošten family – I already wrote about their oil from Buža variety. This year their oil is equally delicious although I think it is still a bit too young since the notes of freshly cut green grass are a bit too strong. It just needs some time – a month and it will become perfect, ready to win another gold medal. Chocolate and olive oil? Believe me it pairs so well with the fruity and sweet flavor of the Buža oil. Yummy! Congratulations, it’s a brave move.

Chocolate goes well with Buža olive oil

Chocolate goes well with olive oil from Buža since it is fruity and sweet

Teraboto – Excellent oil from buža, bjelica and karbonaca. They also had the best pickled olives of the fair, produced in a completely natural way – the olives are first rinsed for 15 days in fresh water, the water is changed each day, then the olives are put in glass jars with salty water. Fantastic!

The best pickled olives on the fair

The best pickled olives on the fair

Livio and Lorenzo Belci – Apart Buža and Karbonaca, they produce oil from Žižolera (Zizzolera), a very rare olive cultivar that grows only in the vicinity of Vodnjan. Fragrant and herbacious, aromatic herbs and pine trees in the nose, intense, piquant, equilibrated in its bitterness. Very persistent in the mouth.

A very rare live oil from Žižolera (Zizzolera) produced by Belci brothers

Livio and Lorenzo Belci produce a vary rare olive oil from Žižolera

Cossara Livio – I was thrilled with an oil made from 100% Karbonaca cultivar. I still remember how its aroma was herbacious, with notes of tomato leafs, in mouth equilibrated and sweet at first, then slowly becoming peppery (not chilly, really like black pepper) and wild. Very persistent. “Enfant terrible” of the fair. Absolutely delicious.

Their oil from 100% Karbonaca is unforgettable

Their oil from 100% Karbonaca is unforgettable

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Clem December 5, 2009 at 00:39

Hey Goran you’re right, I would have loved to attend this event and taste olive oils with you (to see if I can feel the tomatoes and apples in it too). Next year I won’t miss it!
I also like that your point of view on the filtering of olive oil has been challenged. Looks like a whole new field of experiments is opening in front of you…

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dario b December 29, 2009 at 16:28

Super ideja prijatelju, bravo. Moja sugestija je da site postane višejezičan (hrvatski obavezno, ostalo u skladu s mogućnostima) i onda je to pun pogodak.

Ugodni blagdani i pozdrav (iz Slavonije) do novog susreta!

D.B.

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