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A Day at the Olive Grove - Community Oil Pressing Day at Freshfield

It’s olive harvesting season in Tasmania. Yes, olives! I always thought they were only a Mediterranean crop, yet as with cool climate wines, cool climate olives are considered the crème de la crème, though as with cool climate wine, the yields are much smaller. Although Australians are the largest consumers of olive oil outside the Mediterranean, Tasmania accounts for around 1% of the nation’s 45,000 tonnes (2013 figures) which has increased by 790% in just two decades. Around 20% of Australia’s crop is exported to countries such as China, The USA, New Zealand and even Spain and Italy, with several brands winning medals at international events.  Tasmanian olive oils won 20 awards - three gold, eight silver and 9 bronze, at the National Competition in 2017, attesting to the quality of the local product.  

Freshfield Olive Grove  -between showers

On Sunday I went to Freshfield Grove at Campania (near Richmond) for their Community Olive Pressing Day. Freshfield is run by Fiona and Glenn Maskowski who, though fairly new to the olive business – only since 2014, are already making a name for themselves. They tied for reserve champion in the 2017 national competition. They have around 1000 olive trees, mostly Picual and Manzanillo, which are ideally suited to colder conditions.

Grey skies did not necessarily dampen anyone's enthusiasm

The day didn’t look too promising. It was around 11° C and the blustery wind brought intermittent showers. We could have done with a bit of Mediterranean weather, but Tasmania’s olive harvest happens in winter -from April to August, so it was not unexpected and there was still much fun to be had. It was for instance, a fine excuse to start with some mulled wine, possibly followed by hot chips and or seafood and for sitting on hay bales around the fire or under an awning if necessary. The wind also made for rapid change. When the clouds parted, more and more people began to arrive bearing buckets and baskets of home grown olives or setting off, often with the whole family in tow - grandmas, children, babies in prams, even the occasional dog on a leash, to relieve groaning olive trees of their burden. 

Parting of the clouds

I picked just under a third of a kilo, wishing my tall friend had been with me because the best ones seemed to be at the top, but there was much satisfaction in harvesting anything at all. I then took my bounty for weighing and pressing.  It turns out that you need at least a kilo of olives to produce a tiny 250ml bottle, so I just added mine to the communal pool.  

At the weigh in

After a tour of the pressing shed with Fiona, I moved on to some oil tasting, comparing oil from early, middle and late pressings. Initially I thought they all tasted a bit green and grassy, even medicinal, but it turns out that the bitterness is actually sought after and a sign of both purity and richness in anti –oxidants and phenols – the health giving components. If you have only tasted run -of -the -mill super market varieties, tasting real virgin olive oil is an eye opener. Terroir, climate, tree variety and processing all play a role and give each a unique character, which is why chefs prefer it. These really brought out the flavour of the sourdough bread and reminded me of the oil I had had at Fico, but it also tells me that with respect to olive oil my palate could do with a bit more education. Correct pairing of oil with food, requires similar expertise to pairing wine. Read more about that here.

Olives ready to go into the press - don't worry, the machine removes all stalks and leaves and washes the olives before they go into the hopper.

Glenn making sure the wheels keep turning
Not all so – called  virgin olive oils are created equal. Find out how to tell one from another here.   Genuine virgin olive oils are said to have many health benefits including reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease and may even be helpful  in the prevention of diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. For more on evidence -based health benefits of real olive oil, click here.

The best thing about the day for me was the communal aspect -friends and neighbours coming together for a common purpose. Neighbours from the Christmas Tree farm up the road, manned the gate and I ran into an old friend from my own long distant back – to - the – land days. With olive oil production having been around for about 5,000 years, it also felt as if we were taking part in an age -old ritual. 
For other places in Tasmania where you could do some olive harvesting, oil tasting or buying, click here. You taste buds will thank you!