A single varietal olive oil from Taste Croatia
“Istria is a beautiful heart shaped peninsula on the Adriatic coast,” says Chris Stewart, co-owner of Taste Croatia. “The majority of the peninsula is Croatian, but the northern tip is shared with Slovenia and Italy, and this proximity to Italy has had a major impact.” One in particular stands out: throughout the region, Istria is known for producing the best olive oil in Croatia.
“Oleum viride Leccino is a wonderful single varietal olive oil that is made to an extremely high standard,” continues Chris. “The first thing is that the olives are hand-picked. Most olive harvesting machines shake the trees and the olives fall into nets. Even when done gently, it can lead to some bruising. Picking by hand is very labour-intensive and time consuming but it means that only the best olives are harvested and the crop arrives at the olive press in the best possible condition.”
The olives are then cold pressed—which means the oil must be kept below 49C—within 24 hours of being picked. It is then bottled without delay, at which point the oil will happily sit for at least a year without loss of quality.
Premier food market
“I was originally told about this olive oil when we were looking to come to Borough Market,” Chris explains. “There were some products I knew I wanted to sell but I set about looking for others that were of a high quality to show off the best that Croatia had to offer, as we were going into London's premier food market.”
“Once I had tried this oil, I wanted to bring it here because it is wonderful. It comes from a small family producer whose olive oils are regularly voted among the top 20 olive oils in the world, according to the industry rankings.”
In fact, such is the demand for this oil that Taste Croatia is the only company that the producer supplies for sales in the UK. Chris gets a new batch of oil each season and the oil they are selling at the moment was pressed in November 2015.
A grassy taste
“The Leccino is pressed well below the 49C limit which produces a very pure olive oil,” Chris says. “It’s fresh and vibrant with a grassy taste and has a lovely balance.” The high quality of the olives and the careful processing results in an oil with an extremely low acidity level of 0.2 per cent—to be officially called extra virgin, an olive oil has to have an acidity level of 0.8 per cent or below.
Even so, Chris says that special storage arrangements are not required. The best way to store it is in the cupboard, somewhere cool and out of direct sunlight. “If it gets too cold it will thicken up, but that is fine. It is a sign of a good olive oil,” he reveals. “You just need to wait for it to come to room temperature before serving. In fact, to be experienced at its best, olive oil should really be served at body temperature.”
The extraordinary purity of the Leccino means it is suitable for a wider variety of uses than you might think. “I would definitely classify this as a finishing olive oil. Like all good extra virgin olive oils, it is great for using with salads. But the fresh, clean nature of the taste and texture of this oil means you can take it much further than that,” says Chris.
Enhance the flavour
“It is wonderful drizzled over fish: try it on monkfish or a dover sole, and you will be surprised at what a difference it makes. You could dress a risotto with Leccino, and I think it is particularly nice with mozzarella or sun-dried tomatoes. Drizzle a few drops over your cooked dish just before serving, so you are using the oil to enhance the flavour of the food.”
And it does not stop there. Chris even suggests reaching for some of this oil when planning dessert. “An olive is a fruit and because of the low acidity, you can really taste the fruitiness of the olives, so it can work very well with some desserts,” he says with a smile.
“I know some chefs who drizzle oleum viride Leccino over their panna cotta or use it to dress a really good quality strawberry ice cream. I have tried them both, and the hint of freshness and grassiness it brings lifts the desert. The trick is to be very careful when adding the oil—too much could overpower the dessert. But get it right and the result is amazing.”