One of my greatest pleasures since moving to Split was meeting Srđan Mitrović, a wine extraordinaire who also advises me on Croatian culture and points out the occasional faux pas I commit from time to time.
Over the past few months, he’s been educating me on Croatian wine, from Dalmatia to Slavonija, from merlot to the true original zinfandel. As part of this education, he took me and a friend on one of his private wine tours to the Krolo Winery run by Dražen Krolo near Trilj in the Dalmatian hinterland. The vineyard itself is actually in the tiny sub-village named Krolo after the family.
It wasn’t a tour so much as a complete food and wine immsersive experience. In addition to the many FULL glasses of wine we enjoyed from the bottle, cask and barrel, we were also treated to an extraordinary meal prepared by Krolo’s wife, Karolina. She is the Croatian mother I’d like to have on call to cook for me.
It was just the five of us sitting around their dining table chatting, eating and drinking.
It all began with an aperetif of sweet rakija in flavors like walnut (orahovica), lemon (limuneto), carob (rogačuša), sour cherry (višnjevača), and honey (medovača). I’ll be honest, the walnut is not to be missed.
These sweet rakijas are made by adding fruit (or nuts) and sugar to grappa and letting it sit for weeks if not months in containers like these.
While we waited for dinner, we took a stroll around the gorgeous vineyard and ended up in the barrel cellar for a few glasses of merlot and zinfandel at their various stages of fermentation and aging.
The Krolo family has been making wine in this area for 200 years, and this vineyard has been in production for about 7 years.
Once thoroughly lubricated, it was time to dig into the food…and more wine.
Prepare yourself for ultimate Croatian food porn.
Every food culture has some kind of fried dough. “Uštipak” is just one of many fried doughs in Croatian cuisine. It can be coated in sugar or wrapped around some salty cheese and ham, which brings us to…
…that salty cheese and ham I mentioned. This homemade cow’s milk cheese was so fresh that it had been inside a cow two days earlier. A cow that lived down the road. Imagine that.
On the other side of this wheel of food ecstasy is pršut (the Dalmatian version of prosciutto). It differs from the Italian kind in that it’s smoked and it benefits from the cool north wind known as “bura” that dries out the ham as it cures. As a wise Croatian lady once told me, “Without bura, there is no good pršut.”
Incidentally, this pršut also came from a neighbor of Krolo.
This is the part of the post where I offer you a drumroll, as you are about to see my all time favorite Croatian dish. When a homemade dish of pašticada and gnocchi is laid before you, there is no other choice but to eat twice your weight.
In English, some may call it beef stew. Some may call it pot roast. But those labels do not do pašticada justice. While those dishes take a few hours to make, pašticada takes 3 days.
Every family does their own twist on the recipe, but at its core, it’s beef marinated in garlic, vinegar and perhaps some bacon for 2 days. Then it slowly simmers for hours in a puree of root vegetables, tomatoes, more garlic and a couple types of booze whether it be red wine, brandy, rakija or Prošek (Croatia’s famous dessert wine), which create a super meaty and luscious gravy. You might even find a few dried fruits in it like plums or apricots. It’s always served with handmade potato gnocchi.
And of course you must have some fresh peka bread for soaking up that gravy.
After dinner, we climbed into an off-roader and darted off through vineyards and backgrounds as if we were on safari until we reached an overlook above Trilj just as the sun dipped behind the mountains.
To see more of the winery, here’s a (beautiful) short video: