Croatia has some of its food products protected at both a national and European level, their status designated by their unique place of origin. Cres olive oil (Creško maslinovo ulje) is one of them.
In their spread across the Meditteranean from modern-day Lebanon, northern Israel and western Syria between 1500 BC and 300 BC, it was the Phoenicians who introduced olive cultivation to the inhabitants of the islands and coast of the lands today known as Croatia. Nobody really knows the exact date at which this cultivation began on the Kvarner island of Cres, but certainly, it is very old. Fitting, then, that Cres's should have been the first Croatian olive oil to be protected at a European level.
A popular place for retirees, the island's active inhabitants are today engaged in tourism, agriculture, beekeeping, olive growing, fishing and the rearing of livestock. Cres is particularly noted for its sheep who freely roam the rugged, hilly terrain and graze between the olive trees which are grown here. This helps keep the olive groves free of weeds and damaging, invasive plant species and also fertilises the soil.
The other animal for which the island is best known is the endangered Eurasian griffon vulture, who prefer to live in the more sheltered north of the island where oak and chestnut trees grow. Sheep, the griffon and olives are the island's recognised symbols.
Largely undertaken by a cooperative of small-scale growers, the island's olive oil production today uses slivnjača, plominka and rosuja olives, varieties which only grow here. A minimum of 90% indigenous olives must be used in order for the olive oil to bear the name Cres olive oil and it is these distinct varieties that help give the oil its unique taste.
The Kvarner islands of Krk and Cres are two of Croatia's most northerly. They are also the two most northerly on which olive cultivation occurs. The slightly cooler temperatures here assist in both the success of Cres's indigenous olives and in the process of extracting oil from them. The olives are picked and processed extremely quickly, and at cool temperatures, to allow the extracted oil to retain the aromatic properties and as much of the flavour as possible which exists naturally in the olive. The resultant oil is bright green in colour. It is accompanied by fresh and extremely fragrant aromas of wild herbs and the general outdoors and should be reserved for salad dressings or used as a simple condiment.
Click here to find out what European recognition does for Croatian produce and see all of Croatia's best delicacies which are protected