Taste Some of the World’s Best Olive Oils on Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula
Updated: Jul 9, 2021
Istria, a peninsula in northwestern Croatia, has produced olive oil for so long that you can actually visit a 1,600-year-old olive tree that still bears fruit (more on that below.) And this isn’t just your average run-of-the-mill olive oil region: In late 2019, Flos Olei, the Italy-based bible of olive oil, named Istria the No. 1 olive oil-producing region on the planet – for the fifth year in a row. The powerful flavor profile of vivacious grassy notes followed by a crisp, peppery finish makes Istria’s olive oil distinct (and delicious), and it’s found in gourmand kitchen cabinets around the world.
It’s called liquid gold for a reason.
If you can’t get to Istria once travel resumes, there’s good news: You can buy it online, either from individual producers’ websites or from local, family-run purveyors who sell quality selections of Croatia’s best wines and olive oils. When tasting olive oil in Istria, expect a welcoming and rustic experience: Walk-ins are common, and some producers provide snacks such as bread, local cheeses, and even truffles when they’re in season.
Next time you’re in Croatia, here’s where to try some of the liquid gold.
The Towns for Tastings
Don’t miss the southern Istrian town of Vodnjan, which hosts several award-winning, organic olive oil producers that offer tours of olive groves, share samples of the oils (several sell bottles online too, if you don’t want to lug them home in your suitcase). It's recommended to continue on to the northwestern part of the peninsula for more tastings and beautiful countryside views, then turning west to arrive at the medieval seaside town of Rovinj, where artisan producers share family olive oil and made-on-property wine. (Feeling adventurous? You can also find donkey milk!)
The OG Olive Oil
Point yourself to the island of Veliki Brijuni (a 15-minute boat ride from the small mainland town of Fazana) to see a 1,600-year-old olive tree, (shown in the photo above) one of the oldest in the Mediterranean. Amazingly, the tree still bears fruit, producing about 65 pounds of olives each year.
The History Lesson
Opened in 2017, Museum Olei Histriae sits in the center of Pula, just an olive’s throw from the city’s iconic ancient Roman amphitheater. Here you’ll walk through displays showcasing Istria’s many centuries of olive oil production and finish your tour with a guided tasting. The gift shop sells bottles from 25 different local producers.
Don’t Forget the Truffles
In 1999, an Istrian truffle hunter and his dog unearthed what was then the world’s largest white truffle, weighing nearly three pounds. (To compare, the average white truffle clocks in at less than an ounce.) In 2014, the new record was set with a truffle weighing more than 4 lbs. that was found in Umbria Italy and sold for $73,000. Since then the discovery in Istria, food-loving travelers have made the fungus-fueled pilgrimage to there to indulge in its famous “earthnuts” in addition to its olive oils. One of the best places to sample them is at local restaurants, where travelers can try Istrian specialties including beef cheeks and pasta dishes smothered in truffle shavings. (You can even end some meals on a sweet note with truffle ice cream.) Head to the medieval hill town of Motovun for a plate of truffle-covered homemade ravioli and a sweeping look at local vineyards.
-Adapted from Virtuoso Food and Wine 2021