What is the secret of quality Istrian oil? Is it the land where the olive trees grow, the laborers who toil in sweat, or the Istrian sun under which the olives ripen?
Many ancient writers praise ancient Istrian oil (e.g., Pliny, Galen, Apicius), but the most often mentioned quote is Martial (40 - 103 AD) describing Istrian olive oil coming from fertile land, as absolutely the best, 'Uncto Corduba laetior Venafro, Histra nec minus absoluta testa'. Dr. Miljkovic at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Zagreb says, 'Since ancient times Istria is known as an area with conditions producing the best olive oil in the Mediterranean'.
Veralda is also a local leader in olive oil production. Having studied world industry best practices early, in 1996 we felt it necessary to try something new: harvest olives much earlier than local tradition allowed! This required convincing local olive mills to open early so that we could extract the polyphenols and organoleptic qualities we wanted from our olives. Local recognition was immediate and positive. This began a revolution in changing olive cultivation methods and olive oil production in Istria. In 2001 when VinIstra held its first competition for olive oil, Veralda won the only gold medal. Now, the quality of Veralda's olive oil can be appreciated around the world thanks to our French importer who distributes our olive oil to 70 capitals around the world.
To better communicate to the consumer the uniqueness of the diverse olive oils of our region, beginning in 2008 we have organized, in collaboration with Slow Food International, olive oil producer education courses. Here, we develop their ability to explain complex olive oil sensory characteristics and communicate the benefits of antioxidants that we are able to save with early harvest.
Many local producers are winning prestigious international awards because north-west Istria has ideal microclimates, soil structures, and indigenous varietals that set us apart from other Mediterannean olive growing regions. Thus, cultivating local knowledge on the technical characteristics of olives and olive oil and the link between best practices cultivation and early harvest, is critical to communicating our uniqueness to the outside world.
We are on the northern border of the Mediterannean basin, which has important and positive implications for our olive oil. Here, we have higher oleic acidity than in southern regions. This is important because a higher percent of oleic acid is better for your health, decreasing cholesterol in your blood. Our indigenous varietal Istarska Bijelica has the highest level of oleic acid in the trigliceride molecule, at 80-85%, compared with 55% in olive varietals grown in southern Mediterreanean olive oil regions. The north part of the Mediterreanean region produces olive oils rich with mono-unsaturated fatty acids. Here, we have a better ratio of oleic to linolic acid. In general, Istrian olive oils range in oleic acid content from 80% and linolic acid ranging from 4-8%. In contrast, the southern Mediterreanean region produces olive oils with a range in oleic acid of less than 60% and linolic acid higher than 20%.
New olive oil tasters in Istria: