Hi to all istriaficionados – we are back! The photos are not back yet but we’re working on it so stay tuned…
Istria Gourmet Festival is in its third edition this year. And it’s a treat just like the previous two: this year we’ve got more of the taste, the smell and the feel of what Istria has to offer in a sense of wine, food, olive oil and the gourmet lifestyle…
This year there are a few novelties to the Istria Gourmet Festival: the traditional part are the gourmet areas of Nasa kuzina (Our cuisine) with three gourmet konobas (traditional restaurants) Nona i Buscina and a gourmet restaaurant San Rocco preparing the best of Istrian cuisine to the eneral public. Plus, there’s a VIP gourmet tent for the invited guests with Istria’s leading restaurants and konobas and Michelin star restaurants from Italy – this year seats at the VIP tent can be bought or even won as a prize. The new addition to the program are the tasting events called “The hidden charms of malvasia and teran” where you can get to know the indigenous varieties of Istria, meet the wine makers and hear their story…
Check out the whole program of Istria Gourmet Festival here.
Here are a few photos of the gourmet dinners that are taking place at the Stella Maris complex in Umag just next to the tennis court where the ATP Croatia Open is staged from July 5 – 15.
Istria’s oldest and most important wine fair Vinistra was this year in its 19th edition. Vinista is of course all about the wine: the Istrian pride & joy Malvasia Istriana and Teran and many other varieties… Vinistra is all about the fun, the gourmet – oh, and we’ve had a treat this year and the good life.
The gourmet events were hosted by Radin R Grand Gourmet and featured CNBC Wine portfolio host Jody Ness joining cooking forces with Istria’s leading chef Tom Gretic alongside Bruno Trapan, the young winemaker. Slovenia’s leading chef Janez Bratovz of JB restaurant n Ljubljana spell his magic as well as Amsterdam’s 1 star Michelin chef Christopher Naylor of Vermeer restaurant.
More detailed report coming up – until then, let the pictures tell a 1000 words…
Vinistra 2012 on wine branding, Wine portfolio Jody Ness and 1 star Michelin chef Christopher Naylor cook for the gourmet crowd
During the weekend of May 11-13, Vinistra will feature the traditional wine exhibition taking place at the Zatika sports center in Porec (the main floor), the gourmet events with chefs from Istria and abroad presenting their cuisine (the upper floor of the sports center). There are, of course, panel discussions for wine professionals and tasting events for wine professionals, wine bloggers and media. Additional events called Habanos moments are traditionally organized for the cigar aficionados on different locations in and around Porec.
Jody Ness of the CNBC World Wine portfolio was shooting in Istria and Croatia last year and made some friends along the way… This year he’ll be in the kitchen preparing gourmet dishes alongside with Tom Gretic, one of Croatia’s leading chef and a TV personality from the Mastefchef Croatia series. Check the Wine portfolio in Croatia episode via this link
1 star Michelin chef Christopher Naylor of restaurant Vermeer in Amsterdam makes the last day of Vinistra and shows his art & phylosophy in preparing the dishes that aim to show at all times the pure product; taste is foremost then technique and presentation.
These are the highlights of events for 2012 Vinistra from May 11-13 in Porec:
Friday May 11
13.00 – 14.00 The official opening of the 2012 Vinistra
14.00 – 15.00 Branding Croatia as a wine destination with Tony Hodges (Brandstory)
14.30 – 16.30 LF Catering chef Robert Peric in co-op with Istria’s rural agency AZZRI tells a story on the forgotten tastes of Istria. The selection of the traditional ingredients such as the boskarin meat (the traditional Istrian cattle) and the modern twist in the cuisine…
15.00 – 16.30 Vinistra Gourmet 2012 – Radin R Gourmet presents Hotel Lone, restaurant „L“ and chef Priska Thuring – These gourmet events are organized with Istria’s leading gourmet consultancy Radin R Grand Gourmet featuring domestic and foreign chefs presenting their cuisine and the story behind it. Chef Priska Thuring fusions traditional Istrian cuisne with her international experience and vision giving a touch to the traditional dishes prepared in a modern way. Restaurant „L“ is located at Istria’s brand new design hotel Lone in Rovinj.
19.00 – 20.00 Vinistra and World of Malvasias awards
Saturday May 12
11.30 – 12.00 Istrian wine wizards – presentation of the book on Istrian wine pioneers
12.30 – 14.00 Vinistra Gourmet 2012 – Radin R Gourmet presents Jody Ness & Tom Gretic – Jody Ness of CNBC’s Wine portfolio is back to Istria for the fun of it this time. „Life’s my passion, people are my inspiration and my muse is wine“ says Jody. Canadian born joins forces with Istria’s leading chef Tom Gretic in an unusual fusion of tastes, senses and ideas…
12.30 – 14.00 Plavac mali en premieur tasting of 2009 vintage
Plavac mali is Croatia’s leading red grape variety from Dalmatia that has seeized a lot of attention on the international wine scene. Sommelier Sasa Spiranec leads the tasting event of plavac mali from Dalmatia’s most prized locations – Dingac, Postup, Sv. Nedjelja and Murvica. Visitors will get acquainted with the labels Bura Dingac, Kiridzija Dingac, Mare Postup, Saints Hill Dingac, Korta Katarina Plavac mali, Grgic Plavac mali, Stina Plavac mali, Tomic Plavac mali bq, Plenkovic Zlatan plavac grand cru, Madirazza Dingac, Poljanic Dingac, Caris Plovac ploski bq, Rizman Plavac mali, Vinarija Dingac and Antunovic postup.
17.00 – 18.00 Croatian sommelier club presents Teran – the future of Istrian wine making or a dying breed? A panel discussion on Istria’s indigenous red grape variety teran and its future prospects on the international wine scene.
Sunday May 13
11.00 – 12.00 The impact of 2011 drought on Istrian malvasias – oenologist Tomislav Plavsa and sommelier Emil Perdec discuss the impact of the last year’s climate on the quality of the malvasia wines with tasting of the selected labels.
12.30 – 14.00 Vinistra Gourmet 2012 – Radin R Gourmet presents restaurant JB and chef Janez Bratovz – one of the leading Slovenian restaurants – the JB restaurant from Ljubljana and its chef Janez Bratovz combine the Mediterranean style of cuisine with the international cuisines in respect to the materia prima – the seasonal local ingredients. JB restaurant is listed as one of the world’s 100 top restaurants by the San Pellegrino method.
13.00 – 14.00 Blind tasting of Istrian wines with Taste of Croatia
15.30 – 17.00 Vinistra Gourmet 2012 – Radin R Gourmet presents restaurant Vermeer and chef Christopher Naylor from Amsterdam– Chef Christopher Naylor runs a sophisticated and uniqiue cuisine in Amsterdam with a strong passion for the local ingredients combined with modern cooking tecniques. Chef Naylor loves to work with vegetables, fish and olive oils. Restaurants Vermeer boasts 1 Michelin star from 2010 and scores 17 points by the Gault Millau gourmet guidebook.
It’s the beginning of May when Vinistra, the most important wine & gourmet event of Istria, sets the stage for promoting, educating and establishing high quality standards for wine growing and wine production in the region. This year it’s the 19th year that Vinistra, the association of wine growers and wine makers of Istria, takes place in Porec on the west coast of Istria from May 11-13.
Vinistra has set the standards for branding Istria and Croatia as a new and important wine and gourmet destination. Travel, tourism and leisure industry seeks new and uncharted places to be discovered and Istria and Croatia are the new emerging stars. Many say Istria is the new old wine region – the wine growing and wine making has been around from the Greeks and the Romans but the region has been somewhat forgotten during the socialist regime in the 20th century. Today Istria and Croatia are emerging as new lifestyle destinations. And Vinistra has played an important role.
Ivica Matosevic, head of the Vinistra and one of the wine pioneers of Istria said of the upcoming Vinistra: „Istria is the most dynamic wine region of Croatia. In respect to that, Vinistra is an important event in profiling the region as the desirable wine destination and is one of the top 20 worldwide events when it comes to wine tourism. The winemakers of Istria tell the story of the Istrian terroir and that is very important now that Croatia joins the EU (in 2013)“, he said.
This year’s program is quite full of events and features:
- In the gourmet part, Jody Ness of the CNBC World Wine portfolio will be cooking
- 1 star Michelin guest chef Christopher Naylor of restaurant Vermeer in Amsterdam will prepare his gourmet dishes
- Istrian chefs with the international background Priska Thuring of restaurant L and Tom Gretic of the Wine vault restaurant will bill on the cooking stage, their colleague from the leading Slovenian JB restaurant from Ljubljana chef Janez Bratovz will present his philosophy in the kitchen as well
- Tony Hodges of the Brandstory will discuss the footsteps Istria and Croatia should take in branding the region as the wine destination
- There will be wine tasting events including blind tasting of Istrian wines, en primeur tasting of plavac mali 2009 vintage, books on Istrian winemakers being presented
- And of course, the visitors will have a chance to learn and taste all the best Istrian wine producers have to offer…
Check out the Vinistra 2012 event highlights here.
Anthony Bourdain of No reservations says Croatia and Istria are the next big thing when it comes to wine and food
Anthony Bourdain is a very blunt guy. He doesn’t really look like someone you can f*** around with when it comes to world-wide eating and wine drinking. So when he says on his globe trotting No reservations show „Holly s***! That’s good!“ you gotta take him seriously. He knows his food and his palate (he’s a chef), he’s been up and around – more than any of us can practically imagine. And when he calls on God in the times of need to describe the incredible tasting food & wine of Croatia that he has visited last October – take note. Because there’s a reason why „Holly s***! That’s good!“ have been the most used 4 little words on the No reservations show called „Croatian coast“ that had a world wide premier this week on the Travel Channel. Bourdain admitted he was an idiot since it took him eight seasons of his show to reach the shores of Croatia.
„I’m an idiot, it took me this long to come here!“, Bourdian said of his first ever visit to Croatia that was hosted by Mate Jankovic, the Masterchef Croatian judge.
No reservations „Croatian coast“ has probably been the best promotional thing for the tourisim and wine scene of Croatia, the small ex Yugoslav country that went through a war in the early 1990s while today strives to be recognized as a lifestyle destination. Wine, food and the coast with more than 1100 islands make just a piece of the picture Croatia wants to show to the world. And Anthony Bourdian has done an impecable job no paid marketing expert could have ever come up with. His witty, sharp yet often offensive language, clear cutt journalism and masterful shots of the places he has visited in Croatia all put in an easy going TV format make a show exciting enough to watch it over and over again. Needless to say it has generated a huge amount of PR and online buzz since it was aired…
Anthony’s adventures start off in Istria, the northern coast peninsula known for the wine making and olive oil production dating back to the Greeks and Romans. „I’ve had no idea what Croatian cuisine was. Zero! I’ve had no picture in my mind“ he said while indulging on mussels in olive oil, garlic and breadcrumb sauce and oysters fresh from the sea at an old boat turned into a restaurant for the occasion. Next was the white truffle hunting experience in the forest of the medieval town of Motovun. The truffle story goes arund the „Shotzy the truffle pooch“, as he call the dog that sniffed out the prized white truffle from the grounds of Motovun forest (an ounce is sold at some $55) during the shoot. It took more than just that tiny littly tuber that Shotzy found to feed Anthony and his host, the owner of the Mondo tavern in Motovun: fritaja (omelette) with shaved truffles and Istrian sausage, pljukanci with truffles and many truffle-rich delights were served…
The food & wine trail in Istria was concluded with the Skoko family owned tavern called Batelina down south in Istria – one of the most interesting cuisine concepts in Istria at the moment. The Skoko family are the 4th generation of fishermen: David, the son, is the cook who alongside with his mother Alda prepares what his father Danilo catches during the day. The idea is to have fresh fish but prepared in a traditional but with a new vision. Fish tripe was the dish that took Anthony’s breath away. „It’s the first time I’ve ever had this anyhwhere in the world!“ he said and explained that he’s had fish balls, liver and sperm but not tripe so far. Bourdain was in owe with the Skoko family cuisine wonders with the so-called trash fish – the fish left over once the good stuff is sold that was then prepared by the fisherman’s family.
Cruising down south Anthony and his host Mate went to the island of Pag to indulge in some more great wine, great cheese and olive oil. Restaurant & winery Boskinac with its stewed octopus, lamb tripe and goulash (slowly cooked lamb served with pasta) and dried octupus fritaja with the selection of Pag cheese and some „monster wines“, as Bourdain dubbed it, blew their minds off. „This is world class food, world class wine and world class cheese!“ he said.
The highlight of the show was the visit to Bibich family restaurant & winery where they were served some excellent dishes while sitting in Alen Bibich’s cellar surrounded by wooden barrels. „Epic quality“ and „epic wine“ were the words Bourdain used to describe the oysters from Skradin, smoked trout prepared by Mrs. Bibich and debit, the indigenous wine from the region. But the spotlight was on the Skradin risotto, several hours long cooked lamb stew with rice and local cheese that produced „Holly crap that’s good!“ exclamation (the footage of the risotto being cooked really got my juices going). In that shot we’ve seen a lot of Bibich syrah that is being exported to the U.S. being drank and once the plates with risotto were over, the host Alen Bibich called his chef to bring in the pot – „Daj tecu!“ as he said in the Dalmatian dialect.
„Every meal I’ve had in Croatia is incredible! Croatia doesn’t seem to recognize how good they’ve got“ said Bourdain before he and Mate passed out on the Bibich patio (whether that was for the purpose of the footage or not we were not quite sure…)
No reservations show got to an easy going and relaxing finale once the crew cruised into one of the national park Kornati islands – the serene and excluded location and vivid local hosts who served them simple grilled sardines and red mullet put back the smile on Anthony and Mate’s exhausted and pale faces. All Bourdain could conclude was „The next big thing is Croatia!“
Anyone watching couldn’t agree more…
Be sure to follow Anthony Bourdain’s steps in Croatia (check out this map provided by the Taste of Croatia blog).
You can watch the No reservations ”Croatian coast” show on Travel Channel via this link
Europe’s leading gourmet lifestyle magazine Der Feinschmeker, red by 30 million people plus, selected Istria’s wine maker Giorgio Clai as one of the newcomers of the wine scene for 2012. Der Feinshemeker magazine runs the traditional Wine awards each year selecting the best wine labels, wine producers and picking the best winegrowers pushing their reputation on the international wine scene.
Wine awards 2012 included awards for life’s work, newcomer of the year, wine legend, winegrower of the year, wine of the year and wine gourmet award of the year. The gala event took place at the posh castel Schloss Bensberg in Germany on March 3.
And the winner is…
Mr. Clai, even though not elected as the newcomer of 2012, joined the prestigious club of the most influential and succesfull European wine producers. He was selected in the category along with Dominic Huber of Spain and Paul Weltner of Germany; the first place and the title of the newcomer of the year went to Dominic Huber from Terroir al Limit from the Spanish village of Poble de Torroja (Cataluna).
For all those German natives, here’s a video in German on the nominees for the newcomer of the year 2012 selected by Der Feinschmecker http://www.wineawards.info/de/wineawards/archiv/?category=newcomer-des-jahres
I spoke to Giorgio Clai the other day and he told me it was a great honor to be selected. Being modest as ever, he promised to deliver more great wine in the future noting that he was pleased to have participated at such an elegant event at Schloss Bansberg.
Malvasia Sv.Jakov and Brombonero
Giorgio Clai become known for his old school wine making: in his vineyards in Krasica near Buje (northwester part of Istria) he lets nature does its work and he’s considered one of the first bio dynamic wine growers in the region. His famous malvasia Istriana in the Sv.Jakov label emanates the golden yellow color, almost orange. Clai’s prized wines include his white and red blends Ottocento: red being a blend of teran, merlot and cabernet sauvignon and white, a blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, malvasia istriana and pinot gris. Brombonero label made of refosco is also a must when it comes to Istrian wines.
Croatian gastronomy takes a further step towards haute cuisine – a small step for mankind but a significant one for the small Mediterranean country striving to be recognized as a tourist and gourmet spot on the map, one might say… The event that marked the occasion was the welcoming of the new chefs to the Croatian branch of Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe, Europe’s leading association of young chefs that recognizes creativity and passion as the main drive in their profession.
Seven new restaurants join the club
Seven new restaurants and their chefs, mainly from Zagreb and coastal towns in Dalmatia, joined the existing seven members all of which come from Istria. The first four JRE members were Damir & Ornella, Monte, Pepenero and San Rocco who took the spotlight two years ago; last year they were joined by Plavi podrum, Le Mandrac and Kukuriku. The celebratory brunch took place at Dubravkin put in Zagreb where all the members of the Croatian JRE branch were welcomed by the JRE president Ramon Dios, JRE head secretary Hans van Manen and head of the Istrian Tourist Board Denis Ivosevic who is to thank for bringing JRE to Croatia in the first place. Slovenian and Italian JRE members supported Croatia in becoming a member.
Talent & passion is their motto
Talent & passion is the main drive underling the work of any JRE member. And the concept that should be seen in the creative dishes coming from their cuisine: the idea is to use excellent fresh local ingredients – the materia prima – that are typical for each region. Establishing gourmet lifestyle that includes fine wine and fine dining is important for Croatia that strives to become a tourist destination with more to offer than just the sun & sea vacation.
The current number of Croatian restaurants and their young chefs @ the JRE is 14. Be sure to check them out:
San Rocco - Brtonigla
- Pepenero - Novigrad
- Damir & Ornella - Novigrad
- Monte - Rovinj
- Plavi podrum - Volosko
- Le Mandrac - Volosko
- Kukuriku – Kastav
- Draga di Lovrana – Lovran
- Johnson – Moscenička Draga
- Boskinac – Novalja (island of Pag)
- Pelegrini – Sibenik
- Adriatic Graso – Split
- Prasac – Zagreb
- Dubravkin put – Zagreb
This is a photo series of the doors and windows capturing a vivid lifestyle in Istria… Take a walk thru Novigrad, a small fishermans’ village turn into gourmet hotspot…
The indigenous Malvasia Istriana (istarska malvasija) will stage on its first ever en primeur tasting organized by the Association of winegrowers and winemakers of Istria – Vinistra. The tasting is one of the events leading up to Istria’s most important wine event in the calendar – the Vinistra 19th wine expo edition set for May 11-13 in Porec.
Fresh new Malvasias
The professionals and the general public will have the chance to taste the new Malvasias soon to be released on the market on the en primeur tasting event taking place on Monday February 13 at the Regent Esplanade hotel in Zagreb, the capital. The professionals such as sommeliers, restaurants owners and chefs will have the chance to assess the potential of the Malvasias vintage 2011, get to know the producers, learn about the specifics of the wine and how to present it to their customers.
The first en primeur tasting
This is the first ever en primeur tasting of any wine variety organized in Croatia, a practice traditional to the wine regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone.
Vinistra head Ivica Matosevic, one of the wine producers who was at the heart of the Renaissance of the Istrian wine scene, explained „Vinistra has always had a new and innovative approach in promoting Istrian winemakers and the Istrian way of life. I believe that by organizing the en primeur tasting we are raising the bar high for all other wine regions in Croatia and trying to keep up the pace with the international wine scene“, said Matosevic.
36 producers take part
There are 36 wine producers in total who will take part in the tasting including labels such as Arman Franc, Benvenuti, Cattunar, Coronica, Cossetto, Degrassi, Kabola, Kozlovic, Matosevic, Meneghetti, Poletti, Radovan, Ritosa, Tercolo, Tomaz, Trapan and Pilato.
To register for the tasting follow the Vinistra link.
You are what you eat. I believe that is the motto for the 21st century. In the last couple of years I have been preoccupied with what I really eat, what kind of foods, where does the meat and the veggies come from, are they preservatives free, genetically modified of whatever sort..
Under huge retail pressure by many national and multinational chains of buying cheap foods, the question stands out like a huge warning sign. I have discovered that eating home grown, ecological, natural and healthy foods gives me such immense pleasure. I feel good knowing I eat heathly food…And it’s a rare pleasure one can have today: sometimes I even catch myself being quite thankful for having the opurtunity to live in Istria – an oasis of healthy living and longevity potential…
Old recipes – the new way
I love to discover the traditional Istrian recipes and the fresh produce of Istria along with my dear friends. We’ve had an intensly tasty dinner at Larisa and Tonino’s in Porec – they run a gourmet business and a consultancy on fine dining under the Radin Gourmet brand name. In their fine dining showroom in Kastelin, near Porec on the west coast of Istria, we’ve had a treat: Larisa prepared traditional Istrian dishes as she was taught by her mother and her grandmother.
Traditional Istrian zgvacet
Zgvacet, traditional peasnat style goulasch – chopped meat cooked in its own sauce, was four hours cooked on 60 degrees Celsius – when Larisa took off the lid, the intense flavor of the meat just captured the air of the entire room. She served it with fuzi, Istrian traditional home made pasta. This time we’ve had a glass of Riesling instead of the omnipresent Malvasia. The traditional zgvacet in Istria is made only with meat and tomaoes, no herbs and spices as a popular add-ons today, explained Larisa remembering her grandma’s recipe. The meat was soft and aromatic, you wouldn’t believe it…
Istrian cabbage and sausages
Istrian cabbage (verza) with home made sausage (kobasica) followed next: kobasica were fresh and recently prepared and the smell of fresh meat was still intense. For the main dish Larisa and Tonino prepared beefsteak Fiorentina (Florentine style) with extra virgin olive oil by Ipsa on top (when the meat was cut and served). But when they started to prepare the meat, the intense flavor of fresh meat was incredible (the meat came from a local butcher and farmer).
Ines u bijelom by Roxanich
Several bottles were popped that evening and I could remember that Roxanich Ines u bijelom (Ines wearing white is the name of the new label), a coupage of seven varieties of riesling italico, tocai friulano, savugonon blanc, vermenttino, prosecoo, pinot blanc and pinot noir fit perfectly. It has an unusual caramel maybe even old gold like color, it’s clear but quite thick and with intense flavors. Istrian winemaker Mladen Rozanic owns the Roxanich label and was one of the winemakers part of the Renaissance of the Istrian wine scene that is still underway and always ready to push the quality up higher (this latest label is being prouced traditional style with no filtering and no claryfing).
Good life, indeed…
National Geographic, Travel & leisure magazine, Fodor’s travel guide and Germany’s largest travel club and travel assistance service ADAC say Istria is the top destination one should visit in 2012. National Geographic puts Istria in The best of the world 2012 category by saying: “Think Tuscany, but with a Habsburg past. The shady, rolling hills of Istria—Croatia’s northernmost peninsula—are becoming widely known for their truffles, Malvazija white wines, olive oil stancijas (estates), and crumbling hill towns”…
Fodor’s explains “the word conjures something magical as it rolls off the tongue: Istria”, while Travel & leisure points out Istria “could easily be mistaken for Provence. Its sunlit rolling hills, miles of vineyards, and charming medieval towns are much like those of its French rival, and its beaches sparkle as brightly as those of the better-known coast to the south. Gourmets come for the truffles—Istria is home to both the black and white varieties”.
All said is true. And more, much more.
Bloomberg news author John Mariani brings a story on Croatian wines, selecting malvasia from Istria and plavac mali from Dalmatia that could cater to the international taste in the future (California’s zinfandel is a varietal of plavac mali or “the little blue”). The author had a chance to taste Saints Hills, Trapan and Matosevic wines pairing them with selected cuisine on a recent occasion in New York. Here are his impressions on the wines that are getting more attention world wide and eyeing to the European Union market as Croatia gets closer to joining the EU in 2013.
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…
Emmy awarded American journalist Ashley Colburn said she fell in love with Istria filming the fifth episode of her travel documentary Wonders of Croatia. She so loved Istria – the food, the scenery, the people and places – she was thinking of maybe living here one day. A romantic city of Rovinj definitely caught her attention.
Her filming crew wrapped up their visit to Croatia and Istria a couple of days ago. Here is a video from touristar.tv with Ashley Colburn talking about all the wonders Croatia has to offer…
Autumn just might be my favorite time of the year because of the truffle season that starts in Istria. It is the season of the great white truffle – Tuber magnatum pico – the precious and pricey truffle that adorns many traditional Istrian dishes from pasta such as fuzi, fish or meat. The heart of the truffle paradise lies on the north central part of the Istrian peninsula, around the medieval town of Motovun and its forest, home to Istria’s most valuable asset. The truffles found here by trained dogs stand next to those of Italy or France – some argue that Istrian kind is one of world’s best.
Great place to taste a truffle dish for certain is konoba Toklarija in Sovinjsko polje (10 minute drive from Buzet or Motovun, up the hill, the location on the Google map is here). Nevio Sirotic is an owner and a main chef at Toklarija that represents a hidden gourmet gem on one of the Istrian hilltops. Thanks to Lonely Planet who enlisted Istria as top destination to visit this summer, many travelers followed the world’s best known travel guidebook advice and took a gourmet pilgrimage to Toklarija.
Nevio is very strict and specific about materia prima - the original ingredient to any of his dishes that has to be top quality. And no compromise here. Nevio grows many of his veggies and aromatic herbs and spices he’ll gladly tell you all about (you can take a walk through his green garden next to the outside terrace that sits peacefully under a shade of two large pine trees), produces his own pasta (his freshly hand made tagliatelle were simply fantastic), uses only local produces in meet, fish and skuta (the type of fresh soft cheese).
Perfectionist by nature, Nevio takes serious time for preparing the foods that you will be served – no menu here, you get what’s in and what’s fresh and what’s prepared for the day. For that reason is it vital you reserve a table up ahead (here’s the phone +385 52 663 031) – don’t be surprised if Nevio says he has not prepared enough food if you haven’t announced you’re coming. And he will not serve you a dish he does not believe in. He explained a recent situation when it took him 5 hours to prepare the traditional Istrian manesta – a thick soup of beans, corn, cabbage and meat – but the one he had prepared, he did not like the taste nor the composition. So he did it again…
When the white truffle season is on, that is from September to December, it might take you some time to get a table here. But when you do, just sit back and enjoy the fullness of tastes. I was lucky enough to have visited during the last days of summer turned into autumn: even though the evening was setting down, the air was still warm and cosy to be sitting outside: you could hear the wind humming up in the treestops above your head while the Sun was setting down in the hilly background.
The first plate was my definitely my top pick of this summer season: dandelion capares on a piece of toasted bread with dark and a white fig in olive oil and eggplant. Dandelion capares are so delicate and when combined with the sweetness of a fig and a bitterness of an eggplant with a full flavor of extra virgin olive oil – the taste is just superb! Next were his fabulous hand made tagliatelle with freshly shaved white truffle on top. There isn’t a dish more simpler and excellent: the pasta was buttery while the truffles added the velvet touch to it… His every plate has a concept, well planed and executed idea with a clear cut taste. As the main course, Nevio served us a redefined traditional dish of ombolo (pork loin) with sauerkraut and ratatouille. Benvenuti malvasia rounded up the evening of simple and exquisit taste.
Istrian cuisine, wines and boskarin delicacies were presented to some 150 bloggers at the BlogFest 2011 in Italian town Riva del Garda. San Rocco restaurant and hotel prepared some of the simple gourmet dishes from Istria that were fused with extra virgin olive oil produced by Bursic family, Istrain malvasia from Ravalico and Cattunar wineries and refosco rose by Veralda winery.
Istrian agency AZRRI that runs a program on protecting and developing gourmet specialites from boskarin, a traditional cattle to Istrian farming, also promoted their products: gourmet salami with truffles, boskarin prosciutto and others. Chef Leandro Luppi of Vecchia Malcesine, 1 star Michelin restaurant produced some fusion desserts with the Bursic extra virgin olive oil.
The night of the Istrian cuisine took place at Grand Hotel Riva at lake Lago di Garda during Italy’s largest bloggers’ festival that gathered bloggers primarily covering the food & wine scene. The idea that Istria should present its cuisine and its wines was born during a visit of Italian press people to Istria just recently. “The fantastic world of Istrian cuisine and wines is constantly growing and we wanted to show this new world to many who have not yet discovered it”, said the organizer of the BlogFest 2011 Carlo Vischi.
Head of Istrian Tourist Board Denis Ivosevic organized the whole Istrian presentation. “Social media is very important in brand building today and we took this opportunity to build a story on Istria as a gourmet destination further more”, he said.
Saints Hills winery from Croatia announced that their wine label design won the prestigiousPentawards award for industrial design. The labels were designed by the London-based Lewis Moberly, the agency that was awarded the Bronze Pentawards for their work for Saints Hills winery in the category Luxury products: wines and champagnes. Pentawards is the world competition exclusively dedicated to celebrate the Packaging design. This year the winners were selected among 1000 works from 5 continents: the awarded labels will be displayed at the Designpack gallery in Paris and printed in a collection of works by German luxury publisher Taschen.
“Saints Hills labels combine the symbols of the regions the wine comes from with modern elements – all of which should make Saints Hills brand recognized on the international market”, said the designer Mary Lewis who was in charge of the Saints Hills project. The award ceremony was held in New York last week.
Saints Hills winery has invested a lot of effort in promoting their wines on the U.S. market: their labels have entered the restaurants in New York and Chicago and the winery plans to promote the wines with sommeliers, importers and restaurateurs further more in the near future. Saints Hills winery has vineyards located in Istria and southern Croatia producing indigenous wine varieties dingac and malvasia.
Istrian restaurants have joined the Restaurant week, a project aimed at promoting the gourmet scene throughout Croatia. The concept of the Restaurant week is known worldwide and this is the third time taking place in Croatia: first two years the restaurant week was organized only in Zagreb while this is the first time to have it around the country. Restaurant week is on from September 26 till October 9, 2011.
The gourmet idea made up by two enthusiasts from the capital of Zagreb - Zeljka Marjanovic, a marketing expert and Ozren Drobnjak, a food enthusiast and a photographer who wanted to push the gourmet scene and broaden the restaurant goers’ community. And it seems the concept is becoming popular especially when you see usually pricey restaurants preparing more affordable yet high quality dishes. The main postulate is that all menus should be of 15 euro value worth (an equivalent to 100 Croatian kuna) with three options for starters, main dishes and a dessert and with an optional glass of wine.
There are 12 restaurants from six Istrian towns that have joined the Restaurant week (you can check the map here). I have visited Le Mandrac owned by one of Croatia’s best chefs Deniz Zembo. My picks from the menu were: octopus carpaccio, black polenta and squid with a glass of Malvasia Ponente by Bruno Trapan (turned out to be an excellent choice!) and a chocolate cake for the dessert with Kozlovic Muscat of Momjan.
Oz Clarke, British wine celebrity and wine writer was delighted by the Istrian wines he tastes during the Croatian Wine Fair 2011 that took place at the Delfina Event Centre in London in September. Celebrity wine expert Oz Clarke came over to the tasting table of Croatian Fine Wines Limited and tasted all their fine wines imported from Croatia. His likes went to the Franc Arman and Pilato wines of Istria.
James Waddell, Managing Director, of Croatian Fine Wines Limited described what happened at their first trade event: “We had already done tastings during the day for many wines buyers, including two major supermarkets, and journalists and were starting to pack up when Oz Clarke came over and wanted to taste all the wines on the table.
Oz (Owen) was very friendly. He particularly liked the Cabernet Franc 2007, Malvazija 2010 and Teran 2008 from the Franc Arman estate and the Chardonnay 2010, Pinot Bijeli (White) 2010 and Sauvignon Blanc 2010 from the Pilato estate in Western Istria, Croatia.”
Owen has been to Istria and is familiar with the native grape varieties of Malvazija, a flora and fruity crisp, dry white wine and Teran a full bodied wild berry flavoured red wine.