Croatia: Land of Olive and Truffle Oils

When traveling with Azamara Club Cruises, there are a plethora of choices for those wanting to slow down and savor the finest food and wine in port.

Croatia is an oil-rich nation - as in truffle oil and olive oil. This is still kind of a secret as far as travelers and culinary tourists go. During my Adriatic cruise I was lucky enough to enjoy the Croatian approach to creating these gourmet delicacies, and let me tell you, these delicious delights are worth the trip halfway across the globe.

Croatia produces oils from both olives and truffles grown in the richest Mediterranean soils on family farms. The word is getting out, though, so pack your bags and experience an intimate farm-to-mouth tasting you’ll never forget.

During my visit to a local olive oil farm I learned that in the global market, Croatia is considered a small producer of olive oil, but produces one of the highest-quality extra-virgin olive oil. Located in the Istrian town of Vodnjan, Chiavalon, which is the farm I visited, produces olive oil from the trees it grows and offers tastings. You may find that an olive oil tasting resembles a wine tasting.  According to olive oil professional tasters and industry guidelines here’s how it’s done:

  • Pour about one tablespoon of oil into a glass and take a deep sniff. Make a note of the first aroma.
  • Hold your glass with both hands and coat it by swirling the olive oil. Hold the glass for about half a minute to warm it. Take another sniff and note any change in aroma.
  • Take a small sip. Coat the inside of your mouth with the oil. What flavors do you taste?
  • Dip a piece of bread in the oil. Does the oil’s taste change?
  • Clear your taste buds with water before trying the next olive oil.

And like with wine, there can be a snobbery with olive oil. Remember that what you like is the important thing.

There are characteristics of good olive oil and bad olive oil. High-quality olive oil should be fresh or fruity since olives are a fruit. There also should be some bitterness and pungency, or pepperiness. Characteristics of a poor olive oil are musty, vinegar-like, and metallic notes. That’s why glass bottles are preferred for storage. The bad characteristics most likely won’t harm you, so don’t worry about tasting different a wide variety.

While olives are grown all around Croatia, Istria is the place for truffles and truffle oil. One of the world’s most rare and expensive foods, truffles are tuberous fungi (think a potato and a mushroom) found growing along the roots of woodland trees. Known for their strong aroma, truffles have been described as looking like a potato with a rough skin.

Rather than farmed, truffles are hunted and trained dogs are used to dig out the game. Truffles are a very serious business and the dogs are treated like royalty.  

One of the best meals I had in Croatia was at Karlić Tartufi, where we had scrambled eggs with fresh truffles, local cheese, and sausages. Karlić Tartufi also trains dogs to become truffle hunters. The dogs are adorable and so sweet.

Be careful when buying truffle oil, as most truffle oils on the world market don’t even contain actual truffle. They are concocted in a laboratory from olive oil and 2.4-dithiapentane, for the smell.

Do you have an appetite for more info on olive and truffle oils? Check out the following trivia.

  • Pigs were used before dogs to hunt truffles. The problem was the pigs liked the truffles so much the hunters were injured while trying to extract the fungi from the swine’s mouth.
  • An olive tree lives an average of 300 to 600 years.
  • White truffles average close to $6,000 a pound. Pecan truffles cost about $100 a pound.
  • Homer, the Greek author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, gave olive oil its "Liquid Gold" nickname.
  • The first written mention of truffles is believed to be Sumerian in 20BC.
  • With all stages of production taking place in the region where the olives are grown, Croatian olive oil is produced locally, from cultivating the trees to packaging the bottles.  

There are so many reasons to visit Croatia. If you have to choose just one, make it for olive and truffle oils. Happy tasting!

Interested in cruising to Croatia? Browse upcoming voyages to Dubrovnik, Hvar, and Split.

Ann Tran

Ann Tran is a luxury travel writer located in Washington, DC. Ann has cruised with Azamara several times throughout Europe and Asia.

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