This Country Has the Best Olive Oil & You Didn’t Even Know It!

When you think of good quality olive oils which countries come to mind – Italy or Spain? But did you know Croatia is emerging as the best olive-growing region in the world? Total Croatia News reported that Flos Olei, the first and most respected guide to the best olive oils in the world premiered their 2018 edition where over 500 world producers from 50 countries participated, of which 75 producers were from Istria, the peninsula located at the head of the Adriatic.

Yes, I picked up a bottle of olive oil during my last visit to Croatia!

I was also fortunate to meet one of these award-winning olive oil producers at A Taste of Croatia with Chiavalon Extra Virgin Oil hosted by Drusk Trading Company at Oro Restaurant in Long Island City, NY. The founders of the olive oil company, Tedi and Sandi Chiavalon shared their interesting story with the attendees over fine Croatian food and wine.

Sandi was only 13 years old when he got into his grandfather’s olive groves. After his grandpa passed away, he decided not only to tend to the 50 olive trees left behind, he learned everything there was to learn about olives. He worked odd job and used his savings to buy 100 trees, graduated from the Agricultural Secondary School in Poreč, and enrolled at the Faculty of Agriculture in Zagreb. As business expanded, his brother joined in and they have over 7,500 olive trees producing more than 20,000 liters of olive oil.

What sets this first generation family-run producer apart is their dedication to quality. They harvest and process the olives the same day and produce certified 100% organic extra virgin olive oil from Istria. In 2016, the World’s Best Olive Oils included Chiavalon among the TOP 25 organic olive oil producers in the world!

“Our great advantage in the production of high quality olive oil. The secret lies in lower temperatures, thanks to which olive trees have a shorter vegetation period and the oil accumulation in its fruit begins later than in southern regions. When summer heat waves strike southern areas, the fruit already contains oil, so the high temperatures cause a considerable decrease in its quality. On the other hand, here in Istria, the accumulation of oil begins after the period of high temperatures has passed and can no longer have a negative effect on oil quality. This results in high quality extra virgin olive oil of an intense flavor and aroma, and elegant notes of various herbs,” say the Chiavalons.

Now to the taste test. How do you tell when a olive oil is good? Just like wine, olive oil has color, flavor and aroma. Good olive oil is generally more green in color than yellow. Take a sip, close your mouth and breathe through your nose. When you push the olive oil to the corner of your mouth, you should taste grass, artichokes or something spicy, bitter and earthy, never sweet. There may be fruity characteristics, nutty, buttery and elegant notes of various herbs.

Good olive oil when paired with the right ingredients, can enhance a dish significantly, as I found out through a 5-course dinner prepared by chef Djani Barbis, a notable NY chef of Croatian descent.

Dishes featured from the Croatian coastal regions of Istria and Dalmatia, included seabass tartare with lemon foam, octopus salad, seafood pasta with squid ink, filet mignon with champignon mushrooms, and delicate fruit crepes stuffed with fig-ricotta and wine-walnuts. Each dishes complimented very well with Chiavalons’ world-renowned extra virgin olive oil, and took me back to memories of being in Croatia.

If you can afford to take a trip to wander around the historic city of Zagreb, interact with the friendly locals of Samobar, or drive around the coast near Dubrovnik, then you won’t be disappointed by the scenery or the food! Personally, I will be dreaming of having olive oil, wine and truffles in Istria. In the meantime, click here to order Chiavalon olive oil online.

You Have to Eat and Drink This in Croatia

During the 10 days I spent in Croatia, I ate about 10,000 calories worth of wine, pastries, pasta and seafood per day! I know you are thinking, Where does the food go? I actually walked about 10 miles a day as well, so everything evened out!

While its hard to include all the delicious things you can find to eat and drink in Croatia, here are my top ones that made it to the list. Trust me, you will not be doing justice to yourself if you leave the country without tasting all of them!

Baby asparagus salad with boiled eggs at O’Zalata Restaurant located inside the walled city in Split. During spring, wild asparagus are found along hillsides and people pick them up while hiking. These are much thinner than what you find in US supermarkets and have a lovely crunchy texture.

Mushroom soup made with 20 different kinds of mushrooms at Gabreku 1929 Restaurant in Samobor. The restaurant, named best in this part of Croatia, collects mushrooms from all seasons, preserves them and uses it in this soup that is famous in northern Croatia. It is serve with mushroom trumpet powder and pumpkin powder. Even the bread is made fresh with local grains and corn.

When I saw people lining up to get a piece of this pie at Split waterfront, I had to taste it. Soparnik is a Swiss chard stuffed savory pie and is the most famous speciality of the Dalmatian region. It originated from pizza as a poor man food. You can find many street vendors selling their own recipe of soparnik.

The island of Hvar is famous for Peka, usually veal or lamb and potatoes cooked under an iron bell full of charcoal. My hosts, Borivoj and Zeljka Bojanic, who run Konoba Maslina Restaurant in the village of Vrisnik made me a tender grilled octopus peka. I’m sure they got the fresh catch earlier that morning. Even if you are not an octopus fan, this would make you one!

My guide, Tomi from Viator Travel took me to Pelješac peninsula near Dubrovnik where we went on a small boat into the sea with a oyster/ mussel farmer. He picked up oysters straight out of the water, shanked it open, drizzled lemon juice and hand it over to us. Could it get any fresher than this?

Zagreb has a lot of good restaurants but the best place I ate was Vinodol Restaurant. The ambiance was beautiful, but the Fuji pasta with fresh black Istrian truffles, and a glass of Istrian wine, to die for!

Why would you travel to a place to eat fruit? Because it the sweetest organic farm fresh strawberries you can find for really cheap! At Dolac Farmers Market in Zagreb, I bought a pint of giant organic sweet strawberries for $1.50 and devoured them sitting in the park.

The locals make all kinds of homemade brandies (called rakia or raki) using fruits, nuts and honey, often from their own gardens. These are then used for home consumption (before and after dinner) or sold in farmer’s markets. One of the best ones I had was at a simple kiosk located in the Craft Square in Varaždin. The lady who produced the honey brandy even raised her own bees.

I had an excellent dinner at family-owned upmarket Palatin restaurant in Varaždin. But the icing on the cake (literally speaking) was the Palatin Cake for dessert. The owner told me it was a 100-year old recipe that made this 6 layers of rich chocolate and chestnuts not too sweet yet memorable.

No visit to Samobor is complete without Kremšnite, a local pastry made with cream custard. It is served warm in this region (cold in Zagreb) and eaten for breakfast and dessert. In fact, many people come to Samobor on the weekends just to grab a piece.

I also visited many wineries in Hvar and Dubrovnik that are worth noting. Croatia produces excellent quality red and white wines, my favorite being malvazija (malvasia) from Istria, plavac mali from Dalmatia, and Dingač from Pelješac peninsula.

Food markets and souvenir shops across southern Croatia sell packets of candied dry fruits such as figs, orange, almonds, etc. These are called Arancini – orange peel with sugar, mixed with sugared almonds for healthy snacks and often served with rakia.

Museum of Broken Relationships

The museum of broken relationships in Zagreb is by far the most unique museum I have ever been to. Unlike other museums, it doesn’t carry any antiques, jewels or historic remanences. On the other hand, it displays items donated by patrons from all over the world that hold symbolic value to them personally.

Museum of Broken Relationships
Museum of Broken Relationships

The idea of this museum was coined by two Zagreb-based artists, Olinka Vištica, a film producer, and Dražen Grubišić, a sculptor, after realizing a heartbreak. What started as a personal collection of items leftover from a broken relationship, became a 1000-item traveling museum that received audiences across Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Macedonia, the Philippines, Serbia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Items on display include everyday quirky items such as a stiletto shoe, CD’s, laundry basket, toy cars, letter, etc. Each of the items is accompanied by a personal account of the relationship, country of origin and how long the relationship lasted. I found the the notes to be particularly interesting, and rather funny, as people recounted short stories of randomly falling in love, and of inevitable heartbreaks.

Museum of Broken Relationships
Museum of Broken Relationships

One can spend an hour or two seeing the small museum, though the museum also sells books with pictures and stories of some of the items on display. You can also find break ups on the interactive world map and read stories on the blog. Reading stories of broken relationships are perhaps the opposite of reading romantic novels, but surprisingly they don’t get you down or depressed. I feel that reading about real-life relationships that didn’t always end well makes us realize that we live in a realistic world where everything is not always perfect. It makes you feel that you are not the only one who has suffered through a heartbreak. And it makes you smile to read about how people fall in love and cherish the smallest of gifts for years to come.

Museum of Broken Relationships
Museum of Broken Relationships

While the museum is very popular among visitors, it nearly doubles its attendance around the Valentine’s holiday. If you would like to unburden your relationship, send in your item to the Museum of Broken Relationships.

The Museum of Broken Relationships has permanent exhibits in Zagreb, Croatia and Los Angeles, California.