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At 96, meet maybe the oldest olive oil producer in Croatia

Francesco Bellani, 96, during olive harvest this month (Photo: TERRA ROSSA)

October in Croatia is a time when many have to put in the hard work and harvest their olives. Hand-picking can be hard work but not for 96-year-old Francesco Bellani.

Just four years shy of his 100th birthday, Francesco is maybe the oldest active olive oil producer in Croatia and this month he was amongst it again hand-picking olives which will be turned into international award-winning olive oil. 

Four generations of the Bellani family were involved in harvest this year at the TERRA ROSSA farm in Istria with Francesco leading the way. So what is the secret to his vitality? 

“In spite of his very high age, he is always fit and can today with 96 years, still actively cooperate. He is very disciplined and keeps himself mentally and physically fit. He also eats very consciously, always fresh and sessional. It is important to him that he can eat his freshly squeezed orange juice, yoghurt and dark bread every day. And of course, not to forget, a small glass of olive oil every morning,” grandson Daniel explains.

Olive oil keeping Francesco young (Photo: TERRA ROSSA)

Francesco has a deep passion for olive oil which has been a tradition in his family since his childhood and he has passed that on. 

“We have a tick in our family. Each of us adds an extra dash of olive oil to every meal,” Daniel says. 

The family have turned this passion for olive oil into a successful business. First, Francesco’s son Stelio inherited the passion and joined him making olive oil before Daniel, after studying olive oil sensorics at the University of Zurich, joined the team, bringing in his theoretical and specialist knowledge. 

“Together we are a power trio,” Daniel quips. 

TERRA ROSSA was founded in 2010, until then they only produced olive oil for their our own use and for friends. It was a project that enabled them to connect three generations together and was initiated by Stelio and Daniel. 

“We wanted to create something sustainable for ourselves and the region and leave an intact environment for the next generation. So we decided to professionalise the company. From the very beginning we have been convinced of the importance of organic and sustainable agriculture, although at the beginning we encountered a great deal of incomprehension,” Daniel explains. 

TERRA ROSSA Olive Oil is a blend of 5 olive varieties. Leccino, Frantoio, Pendolino, Buza and Bjelica. The olive oil has received several international awards for its exceptional quality. At the International Olive Oil Competition in New York it has won gold 5 times in a row since 2015. 

Daniel says that passion for a natural product with 4 generations in involved, and the fact that everything at their organic farm is done by hand, from picking to filling and labelling, is part of the secret to the brand’s success. 

Daniel and his daughter Désirée

“We focus only on one product. TERRA ROSSA olive oil we sell mostly online and deliver it worldwide. We have customers in Sao Paolo, New York, various European countries, Abu Dhabi and even Seoul. We also sell  directly on the spot at the farm in Istria and in Switzerland, our second home.”

Four generations enjoy harvest together (Photo: TERRA ROSSA)

Francesco’s son Stelio emigrated to Switzerland in 1974 and Daniel was born and resides there with his family. Despite this distance, he is aware of his roots and origins and would like to pass them on to his children with TERRA ROSSA.

TERRA ROSSA’s organic olive farm is a popular stop for tourists visiting Istria. Visitors are taken on a walk through the olive grove and told stories about the olive varieties, the special red soil and about their family history before having the chance to taste the product.

The family olive grove in Istria (Photo: TERRA ROSSA)

Croatia’s Istria region has been named the world’s best extra virgin olive oil region by leading guide Flois Olei for the past five years in a row and Daniel believes the focus on quality not quantity is part of the reason. 

“In Istria we quickly understood that we cannot differentiate ourselves by quantity but by quality. In addition, most of us producers had no family history or pressure. This can be seen in the lack of “old olive mills”. We were able to start on the greenfield. Together with the support from the EU, Istria was able to start with the latest knowledge and technology in olive oil production,” Daniel says, before offering some tips how to recognise quality olive oil. 

(Photo: TERRA ROSSA)

“A good olive oil must smell of freshly cut grass, green aromas and herbs. It should have slight bitter aromas and a certain pungency. How to recognise good olive oil in a shop? A good olive oil is always sold in a dark bottle and on the bottle label you should see the producer with their address, the olive varieties used, the harvest date and the expiry date. A good olive oil also has its price as the expenditure for one bottle of olive oil is not to be underestimated.”

So what are the plans for TERRA ROSSA?

“We want to create a place where visitors can identify and experience our region, our tradition and our passion for our product. We would like to be the first TERRA ROSSA olive oil company which is certified according to DEMETER (biodynamic agriculture), the highest BIO level. We are also working on a new project, but we can’t tell you too much about it yet. Only this: follow #TERRAROSSA2025,” Daniel concludes. 

Award-winning olive oil (Photo: TERRA ROSSA)

You can see more on their website and Facebook and Instagram pages. 

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