Olé olives—From ancient fruit to golden oil
Posted by Webmaster | Filed under Features
The first record of commercial olive cultivation dates back more than 5,000 years, but it was only around 200 years ago the noble olive tree arrived in Australia. Records show that between 1830 and 1850 trees were imported from France, Rio de Janeiro and Sicily and Marseille in France. These trees went on to produce oil which won honourable mention at the London Exhibition of 1851.
Adina Vineyard in the Lovedale region of the Hunter Valley is a more recent entrant into olive history.
‘Most of our olive trees are around 20 years old, says owner and olive farmer Peter O’Meara.
Peter first installed an olive mill in 2006 and since then he has provided ‘toll’ processing olives for local growers in the Hunter. ‘Last season we processed extra virgin olive oil for about 80 growers,’ he says.
Processing the olives immediately is important to maintain the flavours and aromas of the olives and a requirement of certification of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO).
International Extra Virgin Olive Oil standards set by the Olive Oil Council state that the oil must be first pressed from raw olives and can’t be over-heated, no chemicals must be added, the oil must have a free fat content of less than 0.8 per cent and it must have no defects, for example a musty smell and taste from the filtering process).
‘We also comply with the new Australian Standard for olive oils (AS5264-2011) and we are signatories to the Australian Olive Associations Code of Practice. Like all quality Australian producers we strive to produce oils that are only of the very highest quality,’ says Peter.
Pukara Estate, near Muswellbrook in the upper Hunter Valley is another olive producer processing its own olives and has one of the largest groves in the Valley with 26,000 trees.
Pukara’s extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars are amongst Australia’s best, winning over 50 awards in shows nationally, including the prestigious Australian Olive Association National Show. Their truffle EVOO won the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show Champion and gold medal in 2010.
‘You can get oil out of any olive, but moisture content is the key’ says Peter. Table olives, such as Kalamata often are bigger, but aren’t very good for oil as they have a higher water content.
The ripening cycle takes around 8 weeks Peter explains. ‘We pick many of our olives about half way through this cycle at a period when we call them “Hunter blondes”,’ he says, ‘when the green of the olives has just a touch of black emerging, which we find this is the optimum time to pick to get the maximum amount of flavour and oil. However, we do some early and late harvesting as well so that we have some good variation to enable us to do some interesting blended styles.’
Adina then uses a continuous flow extraction machine to extract the oil. The olives are washed and crushed into a paste. The paste goes through a centrifuge that spins it and separates the oil from the vegetable matter and water. The paste is siphoned off and the oil goes into a separator that does a final filtering. Its then left to settle, which allows any minute particles to separate and fall to the bottom for removal.
The process at Adina is also a very sustainable one; the husk and by-product of the processing is turned into compost and placed around the trees.
Summerland Olives, in Northern New South Wales focuses on producing award-winning table olives. ‘We originally wanted to produce olive oil but realised pretty early on that because of the sub-tropical climate, our olives had a high moisture content and low oil content so were better for table olives,’ says Process Manager Alan Hodgson.
Summerland produce a range of black and green table olives. These include a variety of black table olives such as Manzanillo, Mission, Kalamata, Azappa and Nab Tamri as well as green table olives such as Queen of Spain, Hardys Mammoth, Jumbo Kalamata and Frantoio.
‘The most important aspect of what we do is the natural fermenting process,’ Alan explains. ‘It’s a fairly basic process, the olives are picked and put into the salt brine. The trick is to maintain the temperature, salinity and acidity,’ he says. As the olives absorb the salt and ferment, the pH of the brine drops, so salt is added to keep the levels consistent.
The length of time they’re fermented varies depending on the ripeness of the olives. ‘We’ve found that olives picked just as the colour turns from green to straw is ideal and will ferment in around 6 months. Olives picked outside this window, even by a week or two, can take up to 2 years.’
‘It took us a few years to perfect our process,’ Alan says, after some trial and error.’
The experimentation was worth it for Summerland, which has now won many awards for its olives. These include Champion Olive Product at the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show in 2011 and a gold medal in 2011 and 2010 for its Sun-dried Sweet Chilli & Lime olives.
At the moment Adina is undergoing a significant expansion program with a new mill they hope to develop into a regional production centre. ‘Our new olive processing facility will increase production from 250 to 300 kilograms an hour to 2 tonnes an hour,’ Peter says.
The future of the industry is looking strong.