Industrial hemp is becoming more and more common in Istria. It used to be found throughout Croatia and the former Yugoslavia, which was also the largest producer of this esteemed plant in Europe. The material from which sails and clothes were made sank into uncertainty and then into oblivion and hemp took on a completely different meaning, mostly negative and almost mocking. In order to return hemp to everyday use, the company Hemp Histrica was created with its headquarters in the heart of the Istrian peninsula, below Motovun. On that occasion, we met with the director of production Rafaela Babić, who took us through the process of planting, drying and processing hemp in Murari near Motovun.
In the former Puris production plant, Hemp Histrica is now reviving the tradition of industrial hemp and creating products that are not only healthy but also enrich the Istrian gastronomic offer. Planting hemp, however, is not the only activity they do, because we also received their chamomile as a gift and we still enjoy great chamomile tea! The plans are numerous: "Last year was our first planting, and this year our second. Our goal is to have two harvests a year, earlier in April and later in July until September. We want to plant another 18 hectares of hemp, but we are also planting chamomile, while in cooperation with Podravka we are also planting tomatoes. We are also very interested in starting with the planting of Istrian garlic and various herbs. We have the most hectares at the foot of Motovun and in the vicinity of Vižinada, where we employ people from the immediate area. We want to bring people closer to cannabis on a much larger scale than is known today ", says Rafaela Babić with undisguised pride.
"Hemp flower is mostly picked by hand and dried in the Murari plant to a certain percentage of humidity. Then the flower is separated from the stem itself and we create the final product. Drying takes three to seven days. While the workers demonstrate drying, we are also interested in how favourable the Istrian climate is for planting hemp, which has always been associated with Slavonia: Humidity is important for hemp, and with the sun and rainfall in central Istria and irrigation, the valley of the river Mirna and the area of Vižinada are excellent microclimates for growing hemp, "says Rafaela.
The continuation of our time with hemp continued in the Educational Gastronomic Center of Istria on Gortanov brijeg near Pazin, where many ideas of the Agency for Rural Development of Istria (AZRRI) are being tested. This is certainly one of the important levers for the development of Istrian gastronomy because AZRRI is responsible for the return of Istrian cattle, Istrian donkeys, Istrian goats and sheep. We have already seen selected specimens of these indigenous animals in Murari, because there is also a farm with cattle and donkeys.
Igor Merlić, Director of AZRRI, spoke about the blending of hemp with Istrian gastronomy: “Today we are promoting the introduction of hemp in Istrian gastronomy, which is new and innovative at the level of the whole of Croatia. Hemp sometimes provokes provocations and even negative connotations, but through education, it returns as a particularly healthy plant. Oenogastronomy is the second motive for coming to Istria. We made a dozen test salamis with hemp, and in the spring we will go on the market with this salami in collaboration with Hemp Histrica. ”We tried the salami, it has a great smell and taste, although it has a harder structure. It will certainly be a good addition to the Istrian gastronomic offer!
Merlić was joined by the head of agriculture of the Istrian County, Ezio Pinzan: "AZRRI has been the first to present new ideas several times. We all remember how that team saved Istrian cattle from extinction. By introducing industrial hemp and new products into Istrian gastronomy, we are certainly making another step forward, with the help of top chefs who can and know how to prepare it. The background to this whole presentation is an attempt to re-grow industrial hemp in the Istrian County, especially in the north of Istria. "
Despite all the beauties on the plate, most of the journalists present were most fascinated by David Skoko, one of the most famous Croatian chefs, who prepared dishes with hemp. He reminded us that we should not limit ourselves to culinary use when it comes to the use of hemp: "Hemp is used in many ways, from clothing and medicine to food. Rarely does a plant have as many positive characteristics as hemp. Hemp also leaves a positive ecological rate on local agriculture and industry in general. Hemp has the ability to replace plastic and thus get rid of one of the biggest dangers to our environment today. In history, hemp has been indispensable in transportation, food, clothing, making sails for ships."
Skoko recalled the case of the Italian sailing ship "Amerigo Vespucci", with eleven sails, which had hemp sails fifty years old. Ten years ago, they replaced them with synthetic ones, which disintegrated after five years. They reopened the old hemp factory to bring back the best sails. Since then, sails for all old sailboats are made of hemp because they are much more durable and high quality.
The game with flavours was very successful. We tried various dishes for which Istria is famous, but with one significant twist. Of course, it was hemp prepared and added to dishes in various ways. So we tasted boškarin carpaccio with cottage cheese and hemp cream, caneštre risotto cooked on a hemp base, Tagliatelle with hemp protein flour and žgvacet, boškarin ramsteak with hemp flowers and hemp and mustard seed sauce, and mascarpone cream with figs cooked in chamomile and hemp tea with almond biscuit and hemp flour. Each dish delighted with its combination, although we immediately concluded that hemp, due to its bitterness, will not be an ideal choice for everyone. But the flavours are here to play with and you will definitely find proportions that suit everyone!
All this is beautifully blended with the wines of Franc Arman, who has his own vineyards right next to the land where hemp is grown, so cooperation has sprung up from these good neighbourly relations. Namely, with a brave move, Arman made Malvasia with hemp. The first two attempts at this interesting combination were not successful, but the third satisfied wine connoisseurs and they put the final product in bottles. Although this is a young harvest from 2021, so the wine needs at least another three to four months to mature, there is already a very interesting wine in which the bitterness of hemp is especially felt.
Hemp is a hit that is returning to the tables, as well as to other segments of life. This is good because it is an exceptional plant, with a number of great properties. This project is therefore of great need and we wish them much success on the way back to hemp!