To acquire a clear idea of the Istrian peninsula and its rural production we should perhaps understand how the area is composed in geomorphological terms and refer to scientific texts that describe it.
The peninsula has a triangular shape and is internally bordered by the Glinščica Valley, the Hrpelje-Kozina pass and the low-lying strip of land of Podgrad. There are three types of landscapes, each of which is dominated by a typical colour.
White Istria is characterised by prevalent limestone rock and mountainous relief, rising to a height of 1396 m at Učka. The district covers the northern and eastern areas, which are the most sparsely populated zones. This is the typical landscape of the Ćićarija district.
Yellow (or grey) Istria takes its name from the colour of the terrain, rich in sedimentary rocks, such as clay, marl, sandstone and limestone. It forms the central area of the region and extends from the Gulf of Trieste to the Kvarner Gulf.
Red Istria, which presents a layer of red soil resting on limestone rock, is a plateau extending from the southern and western areas (the most densely populated) as far as the coastline.
The sources of all the rivers in this region are in Yellow Istria. On the western side there are the Glinščica, Rižna, Dragonja and Mirna rivers, while the Raša is on the eastern side. The Mirna river, 53 km long, has its source close to Buzet and flows into the Adriatic Sea, near Novigrad.
For visitors who would like to explore the agricultural dimension in the area it is important to acquire this simple geographical information as all rural production depends on the Istrian colours.
In the white Istrian area very few vegetables are grown, while sheep breeding is one of the foremost activities. Visiting the small towns and villages beneath and on the lower slopes of Učka, you will come across small dairies where you can taste particular cheeses produced with cow's and sheep/goat's milk with an intense taste of herbs and flavoured with flakes of white or black truffles collected in the enchanting Mirna Valley by expert 'hunters' of Istrian 'diamonds' (well, this is what the local mushrooms are sometimes called).
Yellow Istria is only a short distance away. This is where you will find the first vineyards cultivated on terraces or on hill-slopes that are ideal for the production of the famous 'Terrano' DOCG wine presenting strong characteristics and a prominent tannic structure. This wine will help you appreciate dishes of wild game served with mushrooms, copious supplies of which are obtained from the undergrowth of the oak woods in this area.
However, truly typical Istrian agricultural products are much more evident in the Red Istria district, which is definitely comparable with Tuscany. This becomes immediately evident as one notices from a distance the different colours in the countryside and the grey-green shades of the leaves of the olive trees and grape varieties presenting greener and larger leaves. In this district there are vineyards that specialise in the cultivation of the Malvasia grape variety, which the Istrian winegrowers are particularly proud of and which produces a very special wine everyone loves. The production of this wine has reached very high level of quality and the winegrowers and winemakers are acquiring a stronger competitive position at all trade fair events dedicated to this sector in Europe and the United States.
But the product which all Istrian farmers are most proud of is the local olive oil, the 'green gold' of the region which was also highly appreciated by the ancient Romans and has lately reached such a high level of quality that the Greeks, Spaniards and Italians are becoming increasingly concerned, because across thousands of hectares of ancient olive groves and in new plantations oils are being produced that have reached the highest levels in world classifications. The Busa, Rossignola and Moraiola cultivars are very old autochthonous varieties used to produce oils with an exceptional fragrance and which present an aroma reminiscent of apple and artichoke ... the tastes can not be easily described, and we would advise visitors to the area to try the local olive oil as a condiment in typical Istrian dishes prepared with meat and fish. Nor should we forget that the fishing industry and the local supply of oysters and mussels are important sectors of the agri-food system in the Istria region. Gourmets and enthusiasts will be prepared to travel even thousands of kilometres to try these tempting foods.
Istrian agricultural products? Walk around, observe, try some of the local specialities and ... seeing (and tasting) is believing.
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