Eko Skoj // Organic Island
Located on the Croatian island of Korčula, Eko Škoj is a 5th generation organic producer of award-winning artisanal delicacies. The product line includes olive oils, brandies, vinegars, marmalades, aromatic herbs and cosmetics—all made from native plants using ancient Croatian practices. The Marovic family so generously shared with me the history and vision behind this beautiful small-scale enterprise while I sampled the divine fruits of their labor.
Location: Korčula, Croatia
Interview date: June 18, 2014
There are more than 1,000 islands that comprise Croatia. Each one offers a unique allure, its own labyrinth of hidden fortresses, secret swimming holes, and Neolithic legends. During my southward journey from Split to Dubrovnik, I found the island of Korčula to be among the most magical. Known as the birthplace of explorer Marco Polo, it is also famous for an eponymous white wine grape, one that grows nowhere else on earth but here. I spent my days exploring the island’s dense Dalmatian forests, zigzagging through tangled corridors of the walled medieval city, and of course sampling the cool crystal waters of the turquoise coastline.
Somewhere in the midst of these vagabond pursuits, I stumbled upon Eko Škoj, a magical organic foods shop with a story just as delicious as its products. The California veteran in me sniffed out the faint aroma of fresh olive oil and dried herb bouquets dangling artfully from the ceiling. A euphoric warmth swept over my senses as I stepped inside this rustic wonderland of artisanal olive oils, infused liqueurs, marmalades, vinegars, aromatic oils and soaps, afternoon sunlight shining through each bottle and illuminating the shop with a drunken glow. As I stood tasting their exquisite ensemble of award-winning delicacies, Diana Marovic and her husband passionately expounded on the history of their olive groves, the ancient traditions passed down by generations, and their vision for carrying on the legacy of an “organic island.” Below are some excepts from our lovely and inspiring conversation.
VV: What does the name “Eko Škoj” mean?
ES: The word “eko” means “organic” in Croatian, and “škoj” is a local term for “island.” So the store is named after my vision for an organic island.
VV: How long have you had the shop?
ES: This small shop here is in its 4th or 5th year. But it’s a fifth generation enterprise. My grandfather’s grandfather started with olives in Vela Luka over a hundred years ago, so we are just continuing the legacy. When my father died 22 years ago I came back to Korčula from Zagreb with my husband to help my mother with the business. Around that time we planted about 40 or 50 young olive trees in the grove in Vela Luka, and we expanded further by using a piece of land about 20,000 square meters in a small village near Korčula that my husband’s family had purchased. Today, we still have these two olive groves—the original in Vela Luka and the other in Zrnovo.
VV: Has the vision for the shop always been the same?
ES: From the beginning the vision was “organic island”—all organic production as it used to be, maintaining the same techniques our ancestors used without any poisons or chemicals in the air, on the earth or on the trees. We have many aromatic herb bushes and trees all around the groves trimmed like an amphitheater—such as lavender, sage, thyme, oregano, and many others. These are natural, organic protections against parasites and insects. Some were already growing there, and others we planted—but they are all native to this land.
VV: Can you give me a run down of the products you make?
ES: Well of course we are known for our olive oil—I will say more about this in a bit. But it was also tradition here to grow fig trees, lemon trees, orange trees, wild strawberry trees…various wild trees that bear fruits we use to make marmalades, brandies, candies, etc. Actually I make 30 different brandies by fermenting the grapes we grow! And all these products are made without any preservatives or chemicals of any sort. Just fresh lemon juice to help them keep longer.
We also offer almonds, capers, all kinds of aromatic herbs, as well as dried fruits, and honey. We make our own soap using our organic olive oil infused with lavender, lemon, and a few other herbs from the grove. Similarly we produce lavender oil for cosmetics and lavender pillows to keep in your wardrobe or for aromatherapy use. When I have time, I also enjoy making different flower arrangements with dried herbs, plants and flowers from the grove.
I am also making infused aromatic vinegars now—one with elderberry, one with rose petals, another with rosemary, one more with small onions… There are many old recipes passed on to me by my grandmother, neighbors, other old women in the neighborhood—the people who have been doing this for their whole lives. Actually in the last couple years I have been organizing get-togethers for older people in Korčula to tell stories and pass on knowledge and recipes that explain how people used to do things for hundreds of years. I would hate for any of these traditions to get lost!
VV: Can you tell us about your process for making this award winning olive oil?
ES: The first thing is that we made the decision to grow only native Croatian olives. This is a rare approach here—many people grow the famous Italian olives for example—but we believe that sticking to what grows naturally here is the most authentic way, and yields the best result. But there are more than 120 different kinds of native olive trees here in Croatia, so there is still plenty of variety.
We start by harvesting the olives around the 15th or 20th of October—this is how our grandparents taught us, and how their grandparents taught them. The next thing is that we press the olives immediately after harvesting—the same day or at the maximum within 12 hours—so that we don’t lose any quality. This technique is generally called cold press. This is when you start to separate the water from the oil.
Some people nowadays prefer olive oil with a weaker taste, as they’re not as accustomed to the traditional olive oil. To produce this, you generally wait two to four more weeks to harvest the olives—they become softer and lose some of their acids, and when you press them it produces oil with a more subtle and less spicy taste. Also with the late harvest oil we process it immediately so that we don’t lose any quality or dimension in the taste.
By mixing the early harvest and late harvest oils we can achieve many different oils with varying tastes and levels of strength and spice. In total each year we product eight or nine different oils. And last year I started infusing these oils with aromatic herbs. For example, people can get our extra virgin olive oil infused with rosemary for cooking and eating fish. We are also making lavender-infused oil, lemon-infused, thyme-infused—many different types, all made with herbs grown organically in our garden—which are great to eat with specific foods.
VV: What kinds of marmalades do you make?
ES: We make traditional fig, black and white fig, lemon, orange, bitter orange, strawberry tree, cherry, sour cherry, elderberry, drunken fig, apricot…
VV: I see some award certificates and medals by the marmalades and all around the store. What are the awards you have won?
ES: Yes, our marmalades have won us some awards over the years. A couple years ago we won for best organic olive production in Croatia. We also got a gold medal for the best label. And we have won several awards for our extra virgin olive oil in particular.
VV: What is your vision for the future of Eko Škoj?
ES: We are already offering two holiday packages as part of our Joy of The Mediterranean program. One is a week long culinary course with a renowned Mediterranean chef who teaches participants about healthy, creative cooking with fresh, locally grown ingredients. The other is an olive picking holiday combined with yoga, meditation, and workshops on wild herbs and how to make all natural preserves and marmalades. We would love to expand on these existing programs! We have some old stone houses on the property that we would love to renovate and use as small apartments where people can live in nature in a completely self-sufficient manner. We would also like to have a big house here on the grove in Korčula for tasting and selling our products. We actually already have a finished blueprint for a water system—recycling rainwater for the grove but also for use in the house. All we need to do is raise the money! We are hoping in a few years it will be doable.
The Eko Škoj shop is located here:
Put Sv. Nikole 38. Korčula Town