One of the most magical parts of being a local in Croatia is the traditional yearly olive harvest. The season on the island has ended, and the calm, quiet months lie ahead – but for locals, it is the beginning of one the craziest times of the year. During the months of October and Novemeber, most families on Hvar Island (as well as the rest of Croatia) come together to celebrate the start of olive picking and oil making.
When did this start?
For over 2500 years this has been a tradition. Croatians were a part of the olive harvest, stretching out for over 500km down the Adriatic coast. This is our liquid gold as we like to call it – and one of the best known olive oils come from an Ancient Greek Island to Stari Grad in 384BC.
The first trees arrived from the Island of Paros, where it was firmly planted in a location today known as the Stari Grad Plain (Unesco World Heritage Site.) Since then, our oils only improved parallel to our techniques and skills.
If you were to ask any local today their thoughts on oil harvesting, they would all definitely agree that it is one of the utmost difficult yet rewarding events in the year.
You may wonder why it's difficult?
Well, imagine being on a ladder for hours, using your entire body to hold you up while picking modest little fruits from the tree?
Or, getting broad branches in your eyes if not careful?
Or simply being in the sun and the wind for hours and hours, day after day, non-stop, just to finish the process with the most quality?
How can we then say it's rewarding?
For some, this is the only time of the year that family members come from all over, spend hours and even days with eachother, singing, laughing, talking, and even grandparents teaching the little ones about how it was back in "their days". These are the memories that are held dear to the heart. The olives are picked with care, handled with love – and it is obvious when you try olive oil made with complete attention.
Also, being in nature, but also the process of picking olives, is a kind of meditation and has a very beneficial effect on the body, mind and soul.
The most worthwhile part, is the extraction of oil to create your final product. It is where you can finally taste the blood, sweat and tears that your family put into this creation. After a day picking, the families sent the olives to the closest mill as it is the most fresh when the mill process starts immediately. From there, depending on the type of oil wanting to be produced, the family is involved in distinct steps. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the healthiest version of oil, which is produced from the first pressing and can only be done by mechanical or hand press. Virgin oil is partially the same as extra virgin, with the only difference being in a higher acidity in virgin olive oil. Simple olive oil is formed with a mix of refined oil with parts of extra virgin oil. The most innovative part of this process is that families can get creative with their mixes and produce their own product.
All of us aspire to be a part of something greater, especially when we have the instant gratification to see the product of our own hands. Don't let summer be the only time of year you visit Hvar – be a part of something new and immerse yourself with the locals during the olive harvest - we promise, you won't regret it.
* Photos from a private archive, in memory of my father Stjepan Moskatelo, who taught me everything about the love of olive trees.