Not many people around the world are still actively involved in harvesting olives just two years shy of their 100th birthday. But you can find one man in Croatia doing exactly that.
98-year-old Francesco Bellani is the oldest active olive oil producer in Croatia and this month he was amongst it again as olive harvest took place on his family farm.
Four generations of the Bellani family were involved in harvest this year at the TERRA ROSSA farm in Istria with Francesco leading the way.
“My grandfather has an incredible inner energy and will, which is why he accompanies us all day during the harvest, despite his old age,” grandson Daniel explains, before adding.
“Due to his age, he has to rest regularly. However, it is very difficult for him to accept this. As soon as he has rested, he wants to contribute to the harvest again himself. I would be very happy, if I can reach this age and that energy. It makes me very proud.”
Daniel says that Francesco, who was involved in hand-picking the olives well into his 90s, is now officially the “Quality Officer”, accompanying everyone during the harvest and walking around and pointing out missed olives on trees.
“He is incredible,” says Daniel.
Francesco’s vitality is put down to discipline and keeping himself both mentally and physically fit.
“He 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,” Daniel revealed.
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.
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.
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, including multiple gold medals at the International Olive Oil Competition in New York.
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.
Croatia’s Istria region has been named the world’s best extra virgin olive oil region by leading guide Flois Olei 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,” adds Daniel.