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Mediterranean flavours of Slovenian Istria

The Butul family from the village of Manžan above Koper uses the slogan "Tradition is our mission" to promote traditional Istrian cuisine. They want the world to know that Slovenia is, among other things, also a Mediterranean country.

They use an innovative, modern and unique way of making food and growing vegetables on the four hectares of land surrounding their house, preserving the tradition of producing and preparing food handed down from their nonnos – or grandfathers.

At my place

Their son Črt started developing his passionate relationship with cuisine very early on. At fourteen he became the youngest amateur sommelier in Slovenia, but cooking has remained one of his greatest passions. When he was nineteen, he was already gaining experience all over the world, including on a luxury yacht and at a Michelin-star restaurant in Switzerland. At my place is his latest project. This is a club that is taking over Ljubljana, Amsterdam and Berlin. During the coronavirus epidemic, Črt was handing food through the window on Prešeren Street in Ljubljana, which was well received by city residents.

At my place is a platform of creativity, where the cuisine on offer is refined by art exhibitions and music events.

  • Črt Butul

    With his new project, At my place, Črt is raising debates about new culinary trends. Photo: Personal archives

In the tasting room, which can accommodate a small number of people, guests can try Črt’s dishes and the Butul family wine, distributed under the Butul Wine Selection brand, following the slow-food principle.

Alongside cooking, which he loves, Črt is also interested in many other things. He studied international relations, honed himself as a journalist, tried getting into an acting academy, designed the labels for his family’s products and worked as a photographer, director and web designer. Wood design is another long-standing passion, and he likes to make as many things as he can himself.

  • Butul wine

    The Butul family wine, distributed under the Butul Wine Selection brand. Photo: Personal archives

With his new project, At my place, Črt is raising debates about new culinary trends. He believes we begin eating with our eyes: if a dish is not attractive, our brain will resist it. Črt insists we must be proud of our local Slovenian food because it can easily compete with the best dishes internationally. He worries that food is not distributed equally around the world; on the one hand, we don’t know what to do with all the surpluses of food, and on the other people are starving.

He swears by local seasonal produce, and he realized that during the coronavirus lockdown people became even more aware of the importance of having a local food supply.

So he uses every occasion to encourage people to avoid long retail chains.

Črt, his mother Tatjana and father Mitja also like to travel, and they bring new flavours, spices and recipes home from their journeys. They spend their winters in Sri Lanka, where, among other things, they also cook Istrian food at a five-star hotel owned by the honorary consul to Slovenia.

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Promoting Mediterranean cuisine

The Butuls say Slovenians are not aware enough that the coastal part of the country is actually Mediterranean, and they want to promote this around the globe. People are happy at their farm and nothing can beat the word-of-mouth recommendations of a satisfied guest. Their one-on-one approach is crucial, and most guests, most of whom are foreigners, have come to them from their organically spread reputation.

  • farm work

    They promoted their herb garden at fairs abroad, and since then they have hosted visitors from over eighty countries. Photo: Personal archives

In 2010, the City of Koper held a public call for proposals for new tourism products.

The Butuls applied with their Mediterranean herb garden in Slovenian Istria, which was selected as the best product in the municipality.

They promoted their herb garden at fairs abroad, and since then they have hosted visitors from over eighty countries. After that they expanded their rooms and self-catering accommodation facilities, with people visiting them for workshops, holidays, herb garden tours and so on. Ever more new guests continue to arrive, expanding the circle of visitors.

The Hidden Gem package

The Butul restaurant ranks third in the Coastal-Karst region and their agritourism offer ranks third in Slovenia. In 2018, the Butul Farm also won first place in Radio SI’s project Slovenia’s hidden gems, which promotes excellent tourism products and packages that provide the best of what the various Slovenian regions, from Prekmurje to the Littoral, have to offer. Their winning project was Mediterranean Flavours of Slovenian Istria, which serves as a platform for connecting cuisine, art and wellness, and a point of contact with the local providers and local experiences.

The Butuls offer days of work and entertainment at their farm, including Mediterranean cuisine workshops, outdoor accommodation, sauna therapy, pampering in a hot tub, accommodation with local seasonal breakfast, accommodation in large luxury tents, slow-food dinners, wild plant foraging workshops, harvesting olives, help on the farm, a guided tour of hidden rural gems (outdoors and in the village) and truffle hunting.

  • workshop

    They also give workshops on how to prepare food. Photo: Personal archives

In addition, their guests can also take part in seasonal farm work, such as beekeeping, harvesting olives, pruning trees, making hay, gardening, cleaning herbs, picking grapes and bottling and preserving the Butul Selection products. The Butuls offer them a hot afternoon "Field Snack", allowing their guests to eat and drink just like the farmers on the Istrian fields used to in the past, providing them an explanation and modern interpretation of the meals that people used to have out in the fields. They also cook out over an open fire, and give workshops on how to prepare food in this way.

The Mediterranean herb garden

The central part of the Butul Farm is their world-renowned herb garden, where guests can admire over fifty varieties of herbs and aromatic plants, various vegetables, and 300 olive trees, enjoying the scents of the sea and Mediterranean. They can also try the olives and olive oil, Malvasia and Refosco wines, and exquisite local food.

With a great deal of voluntary work and assistance from the Municipality of Koper, the Butuls worked the land and planted the garden ten years ago, calling it a Mediterranean herb garden in Slovenian Istria.  They planted it with dozens of Mediterranean herbs and vegetables, which they fertilise with horse manure. The garden is open to visitors from May to September. Tours accompanied by culinary workshops focusing on herbs can be booked even outside these months.

  • The visitors in the garden

    The garden is open to visitors from May to September. Photo: Personal archives

All visitors are offered fresh bread after their tour, accompanied by herb specialties that will delight all tastes.

The Butuls take you for a walk among the scents and flavours of the sea, olive groves, vineyards, meadows and gardens, from where the view extends all the way to Mount Triglav.

They have built oases of herbs on their property, guiding their guests from one to another, teaching them about the wild herbs, honey, bees and oil. After that the visitors can also taste everything, including the fermented purslane, which they pick in the summer. In the end, they also tell their visitors what recipes they make with the plants they have seen. At the very beginning, the family decided to create an educational farm and pass their knowledge onto others. They see no sense in keeping it for themselves. Visitors can also choose to purchase a wide selection of excellent jams, sauces, tinctures, oils, wines and syrups made by Tatjana.

Nowhere without olive oil

Olive oil accompanies them at all times, and they travel nowhere without it. Their suitcases thus always contain oil, wine and salt. It is their firm belief that Slovenians have one of the best salts in the world: the Sečovlje salt. It gives food a completely different flavour and, as they say, it enriches everything. When they put it on the table and their foreign guests try it, they immediately become hooked. This is how they bring people to Slovenia.

And that’s exactly their goal: to provide visitors with the opportunity of a combined holiday and business trip.

Using this type of promotion for Slovenia and Slovenian Istria, they have already brought many international visitors to the country. One of their culinary specialities is tea in cheese, and they developed this for about five years. Their cheeses originate from Staro Selo and Mount Matajur, and are made with the Sečovlje salt and herbs from their Mediterranean garden, such as lavender and rosemary, or something else that they add to the cheese. Like black tea, for instance. This cheese is delicious.

There is no end to the work on the farm, neither outdoors nor in the kitchen. Whatever is currently growing ends up in their pots. There is no meat on the farm that would wait in the freezer. People that visit them can explore those items that are always on the table and seasonal. When asparagus is in season, they make dishes from asparagus, and when the time is right, they cook with beans or persimmons. The Mediterranean climate allows them to have something fresh in their garden throughout the year. The Butuls invite their guests to join them in their daily chores, allowing them to experience a part of their everyday life, or simply to join them for a chat. And many of them come back for another happy day there. It is a true joy to see how the two generations of the Butuls have so tastefully merged traditional ingredients and techniques with forward-thinking approaches, showing the world the Mediterranean flavours of Slovenian Istria.

Author: Vesna Žarkovič

Date: 29. July 2020

Time to read: 3 min