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Monte Formento - Tasting the Oil of Century-Old Olives

In the village of Kovači in western Istria, amidst an olive grove whose life spans over a century, the Monte Formento olive oil tasting room recently opened its doors. Here, the Grebac family offers the exquisite gifts of their olive groves and fields for visitors to sample. Managing the family estate, olive cultivation, and other agricultural production today are Karlo Grebac and his father Fiorentino Grebac. The estate was founded by Karlo's great-grandfather, Mateo Kovač, who planted the first olive trees back in 1906.

Across five generations of the Kovač and Grebac families, the cherished Istrian buža variety of olives, originally planted by Mateo Kovač, has been cultivated. However, about twenty years ago, Fiorentino and Karlo Grebac decided to dedicate themselves more intensively to olive growing. Expanding their assortment, they have been planting new olive trees each year, resulting in a current total of 1,200 trees comprising the pendolino, leccino, buža, bianchera, frantoio, and moraiolo varieties. From their olive trees, they produce four labels of extra virgin olive oil, each with a distinct level of spiciness and bitterness, making them suitable for various types of food.

The mildest among their four oils is the Grebac buža, a traditional Istrian variety that pairs well with white fish, fresh cheeses, risottos, and vegetables. The next label, still categorized as mild oil, is leccino, which pairs excellently with shrimp and squid and is great for dressing salads and desserts. With a slightly more intense flavour, the cuvee Premium mix is a blend of multiple varieties, suitable for dishes with asparagus, cheeses, fish, and red meat. Finally, the spicy oil made from the bianchera variety, also known as Istrian bjelica, is ideal for pairing with maneštra (a traditional Istrian vegetable stew), grilled meats, braised dishes, and meat spreads.

Over the past decade, the Grebac family has been processing their olives using a modern cold process, and the processed oil is stored in stainless steel tanks at a constant temperature of 16-18 degrees Celsius until it is bottled. The exceptional quality of their oils has been confirmed through numerous accolades, including three entries in the Flos Olei guide to the world's finest olive oils, seven gold medals at the largest regional Olive Oil Competition in Split, and two gold medals at the Tekuće zeleno zlato Istre (Flowing Green Gold of Istria) exhibition in Tar.

The Monte Formento tasting room takes its name from a medieval military fortress in the Kaštelir area, mentioned in 1120 as one of the fortifications of the Aquileian Patriarchate in Istria. It was built in the middle of the olive grove planted by the great-grandfather 118 years ago. In order to construct the tasting room, 24 old olive trees were carefully removed and transplanted to other olive groves.

In this tasting room, the hosts offer several tasting and educational programs. The primary program includes olive oil tasting, optionally accompanied by sampling other local products such as prosciutto, cheese, bread, and wine. Visitors also learn about the history of olive growing in the Mediterranean and the Grebac family's olive-growing heritage. They discover the nutritional value of olive oil, one of the pillars of the Mediterranean diet, which has recently been added to UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage.

Kovači 45, 52464 Kaštelir

+385 (0)91 764 35 82

Text and photo: Branka Mihaljinec

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