Chiavalon in Istria: Making Olive Oil with the World’s Best

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It is the olive harvest season in Istria. A visit to Chiavalon Extra Virgin Olive Oil, recently named in the world’s top 15 producers, to watch liquid gold in motion. 

After 14 years living on a Dalmatian island, I have come to appreciate how locals work with the calendar of nature. Spring seems them disappear into the wild in search of delicious wild asparagus, while September is reserved for the grape harvest, and the end of October and early November sees locals from all walks of life – from waiters to corporate CEOs in Zagreb – heading back to the island to spend days in the family olive groves. It is a time for extended family bonding, as well as reaffirming the islander’s bond with nature. 

While I will not claim to have been the most prolific of olive pickers during my time on Hvar, I did play a part in the family harvest, and I am truly sad to be missing this year’s picking (but thinking of my young brother-in-law, young Djordje, who has flown in from Alaska to help out). Olives are a hard thing to escape at this time of year, and it was with some pleasure that I found myself with an opportunity to visit the most impressive olive story of all in Croatia this week, right at the moment that they were pressing the 2017 crop. 


We have written about the outstanding success of Chiavalon Extra Virgin Olive Oil several times this year, as international recognition has followed international recognition: back in March Chiavalon was awarded an extra gold medal in the category of the world’s best organic extra virgin olive oil at BIOL in Italy; in August, it was named 13th best olive oil in the world by World Best Olive Oils; and in May, it was named best organic extra virgin olive oil of all at Olive Oil Award in Zurich. No disrespect to the excellent quality of my father-in-law’s wonderful oil, but that is some seriously impressive recognition. 

A phone call was made, and we were invited to come and meet Sandi Chiavalon, one of two pioneering brothers who are doing some incredible things in Istrian agriculture, of which more below. I had heard of the excellent tasting facilities Chiavalon had, but we headed instead to a less romantic industrial estate in Galizana near Pula, where the brothers had rented space for their new state of the art production facility.


This is to yet another milestone year for the Chiavalon team. Previously, they had been using other facilities to press their olives, but now they were in complete control. 


State of the art equipment which is a far cry from the start of the Chiavalon story, which Sandy told me started at the age of 13 when his grandfather gave him 13 olive trees to look after. Chiavalon today has an annual harvest of between 16 and 17,000 litres. To put that in some kind of perspective, my father-in-law has about 100 trees, which yield about 200 litres in a good year.  


Preparations underway for the arrival of the extra virgin oil.  

An overview of the process of production in the video below. Harvesting in the olive grove is done by 15 hands, using some mechanical help. The olives are then brought to the warehouse for processing, cold pressed.  

And after a few minutes, liquid gold! 


I am normally a beer man, but I was keen to do my tasting of this one. A key element of the Chiavalon pressing was the speed from pick to production. Just one hour after being collected from the olive grove, the olive pressing starts, and some 15 minutes after that, the first drops and then a steady pour of extra virgin olive oil goodness. The taste? Bitter and spicy, and rather divine. And full of antioxidants, Sandi assured me. I felt healthier already.  


In fact, it was impossible NOT to feel happy and healthy in Sandi’s company. The man oozes positivity and clearly loves what he does. I am sure that some of that is reflected in the way his olives grow. 

Time to celebrate! A bottle of wine appeared, and somewhat typically, it had a local story, from a friend who was a farmer, who also made some wine. It was equally outstanding.  


It may not have had the style of the main Chiavalon tasting room, but there was a sofa from where one could sit and enjoy the pressing process in comfort.  


A wonderful story of success, but one which does not end there, for although olives are the core business of the company, a rather fascinating new dimension has been added. Noticing that there was a lot of abandoned farmland in the Rasa Valley in Istria, Sandi made enquiries and learned that the state-owned land had not been farmed for 35 years. Before that, it had been used to grow animal feed, and so it was mercifully free of pesticides and the perfect location to expand the business.  

Leasing 185 hectares from the state, the Chiavalons set out to experiment, planting 60 different crops of fruits, vegetables and cereals, to see which would grow best. All organic produce. One of the biggest successes was something rarely heard of growing in Istria – watermelons. Local hotels took an interest (an interest which is growing quickly), and the door is now open to develop this arm of the business supplying Istria’s quality hotels with high quality local organic produce, a move which can only enhance Istria’s already renowned international gourmet reputation. More on the story in Croatian here.


We were there for perhaps an hour maximum, but enough time to not only digest the antioxidants from the exceptional olive oil, but also to breathe the air of positivity of this fantastic company. And I found myself smiling all the way back to Zagreb in the car. As the modern teenager spends his time in iPads and iPhones, how much richer has been the experience of a 13-year-old with a love of nature and hard work and just 30 olive trees to play with?

To learn more about Chiavalon, visit their official website



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