Written by Anita Palada, Edward Kiersh
Photos by Anita Palada
Long before the Mediterranean Diet became a health-enhancing trend, Kruno Cukrov, 50, would stand in his olive tree grove watching scores of sheep eating the grass, and appreciate their giving a special “blessing” to his land.
Proud that he’s using totally organic cultivation methods dating back to the Romans, he insists, “We are respecting a great past, no chemicals, the sheep’s natural fertilizer, picking by hand…”
As Kruno bites into a few olives, and shares this bounty with me, it’s understandable why he works slavishly everyday to produce the highest quality extra virgin oil. Along with feeling a special reverence for his land, he hopes to continue another trend.
His grove on the sun-swept island of Brač, and other small family Croatian cultivators are winning increasing international recognition for their limited quantity oil.
What does Cukrov and his counterparts on the island of Krk, and in the northern region of Istria, have in common?
They share a passion for the land, for the verdant trees, for handpicking each olive and pressing them the same day to guarantee the utmost taste.
Recognizing that his 1000 olive trees are a legacy from his grandfather that must be honored, Cukrov calls these trees “mothers.” He feels they give birth to oil with the best balance of fruit and bitterness, along with prized distinct aromas.
So he works. Continuously. Relentlessly. Lovingly. Digging the land around the trees, picking grass and sprouts, even encouraging the sheep to come visit, to give their “blessings.”
As we talk about Brač’s riches—one million-plus trees (mainly Oblica which fare well in drought and wind), and his own trees, Cukrov pauses for a few moments to look at the shimmering blue Adriatic. The views from his elevated property are stunning, certainly part of the excitement that accompanies any visit to the Olive Oil Museum he and his wife Katija built in a charming, restored stone building in Škrip.
His museum, a tribute to 1800’s hand-made production methods, is graced with olive presses, spindles, a fireplace for heating water, and numerous wooden casks.
“This is not just a building that has been declared a cultural asset by the Republic of Croatia,” says Crukov. “It’s a former gathering place of social life that has been completely restored to the spirit of life and customs (of the past)…a spirit best reflected in Katija’s kitchen.”
Yet this cozy kitchen presents a major dilemma. When is it best to savor her sheep and goat cheeses along with olive spreads adorned with almonds, garlic and anchovies?
At the start of a visit to Brač or at the conclusion of a six-kilometer walk that is known as the “Olive Trail”?
Take that excursion. It winds past numerous groves where oil and the local wine can be enjoyed.
Then meet Katija, a maestro in the kitchen. Faithful to traditional recipes, yet still willing to add modern nuances, she combines olives with “capers, cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and other Mediterranean ingredients.
“All these foods and spices are here from time immemorial..but our ancestors ate and combined them differently…we are left to follow tradition and upgrade antique dishes. We just want to give our visitors good taste.”
And good memories of a genuine “farm to table experience.”
So come meet this hard-working couple desperately trying to provide glimpses into authentic Croatian life. Wedded to the soil, and its’ riches, they too are a treasure.