Extra virgin olive oil: 2022 first harvest
The Australian olive harvest is now underway and is expected to run until late June. Last year’s harvest was exceptional, and this year looks to be another successful one for our olive producers. There’s been plenty of rainfall, and overall weather conditions have been good for olive growth. We take a slurp from some 2022 first harvest releases, and bust a few myths surrounding extra virgin olive oil, cooking and health.
What makes olive oil “extra virgin”?
Extra virgin olive oil is made from the first press of pure, cold-pressed olives. After the first press, olives are further pressed and processed to extract more oil, but this produces oils of lesser flavour and quality. For an olive oil to be classified as “extra virgin”, it also needs to meet certain chemical criteria and be free from taste defects.
Is extra virgin olive oil good for you?
Yes, indeed. Only extra virgin olive oil naturally contains compounds called phenols. These act as antioxidants and have been shown to have other health-promoting properties. According to dietitian and nutritionist Jacqui Plozza, there are more than 30 different natural phenols and antioxidants in Australian extra virgin olive oil. It also contains cholesterol-lowering, heart-healthy fats and vitamins E and K. Further, extra virgin olive oil is the primary source of added fat in the Mediterranean diet. Studies have suggested that this dietary pattern can help to reduce the risk of disease and cognitive decline.
But can you cook with it?
Plozza says it’s a myth that you can’t cook with extra virgin olive oil. If it’s fresh and of good quality, the oil will have a high smoke point that’s well above cooking temps used in methods like frying, roasting and baking. And because it’s high in antioxidants and monounsaturated fat (a stable fat), extra virgin olive oil is also very stable under heat. If you cook vegetables with extra virgin olive oil, it even improves the vegies’ nutritional content, as the phenols and antioxidants from extra virgin olive oil are transferred to vegetables cooked in it.
Grampians Olive Co Olio Nuovo
The award-winning Grampians Olive Co has released its 2022 first harvest Olio Nuovo (new oil) organic extra virgin olive oil. Each year, the family-owned and operated grove releases a special limited-edition unfiltered cold-pressed organic extra virgin olive oil from the first olives harvested each season, mainly from green olives. The oil features hand-selected olive varieties including Verdale, Mission and Benito. Heat and a little stress over summer has increased the antioxidant content of the oil, which gives it a peppery finish as well as concentrating the flavour of this beautifully thick and fruity organic olive oil.
Quality over quantity
Grampians Olive Co is one of the country’s oldest olive groves. Located adjacent to the Grampians National Park, Grampians Olive Co produces some of Australia’s very best certified organic extra virgin olive oil. The grove is owned and operated by Andrew and Susan Mathews and their son Greg, who organically farm the olive grove’s 28,000 olive trees in the Mediterranean-like climate of the Northern Grampians region.
Grampians’ heritage olive tree varieties were planted in the traditional low-density layout, where the trees have enough space to spread their roots out. The grove is also dryland farmed, which means it’s solely reliant on natural rainfall. All this might mean lower yields, but the Mathews choose to farm this way in the name of flavour and quality.
To ensure the Mathews’ high standards are met at every step from tree to bottle, the entire Grampians Olive Co oil production process is done on-site. The Grampians Olive Co press is also the only one in the region. Having a press on-site reduces the time between olive picking and pressing, which maximises flavour and retains antioxidants.
All about olives
This long weekend, Grampians Olive Co will be celebrating the olive harvest with a special open day. Come along on Sunday, June 12, for all-you-can-eat wood-fired pizza, an olive harvesting and pressing tour and quality local Grampians wines, all while taking in the breathtaking views of the olive grove and the surrounding national park.
Andrew, Susan and Greg Mathews will be hosting the olive harvesting demonstration and olive pressing tour. Here, you can learn about the process of producing olive oil from tree to bottle, including sustainable growing practices through to harvesting and watching cold fresh organic olives made into liquid gold. The Mathews will also be on hand to answer questions about olive tree pruning, olive curing and general care of olive trees at home.
Rich Glen Estate
Rich Glen Estate is a 36,000 olive tree plantation on the Murray River in Yarrawonga, Victoria. Owners Daimien and Rosalind Vodusek grow, pick and press more than 180,000 litres of extra virgin olive oil each year from their state-of-the-art processing facility.
“The benefit of having our processing facility located at the centre of our estate allows us to press the olives within hours of being harvested,” Rosalind says. “This captures the most flavour and polyphenols available in the olives.”
Rich Glen has more than 11 varieties of olive tree on the property, from well-known Italian varieties Coratina and Frantoio to popular Spanish olives Manzanillo, Picual and Arbequina. The 2022 olive harvest has turned out to be a record year for the Voduseks, with yields never before seen when it comes to kilogram of fruit per hectare.
The Rich Glen collection
Rich Glen’s limited-release 2022 First Harvest extra virgin olive oil is made from hand-selected young green olives which are processed within hours of harvesting. The 2022 First Harvest has crisp apple and fresh-cut grass aromas and a pungent, peppery finish.
A rapidly growing element of the Rich Glen brand has been its range of natural, olive oil-based skincare products, also made on the farm in a new manufacturing facility.
“Olive oil is such a powerful ingredient when it comes to hydrating your skin,” Rosalind says. “We’re extremely passionate about creating a range of skincare products that leave you feeling luxurious and rejuvenated while only using ingredients that nurture your skin.”
Also fresh from the grove…
Cape Schank Olive Estate
The multiple award-winning Cape Schank Olive Estate has announced its special range of limited-batch First Harvest extra virgin olive oils. Each of Cape Schank’s five distinct olive varieties is picked and pressed within hours and immediately bottled. The oils are hand-poured into bottles that are hand-painted by a local artist, making each individual bottle of oil unique. Choose from Frantoio, Picual, Leccino, Coratina and Picholine. To order Cape Schank 2022 First Harvest, go to capeschanckestate.com.au
Tasmania’s Ashbolt Farm has been in the Ashbolt family since the beginning of the 20th Century. The Ashbolt Farm olive grove is located in the unique microclimate of Tasmania’s Derwent Valley. The grove’s soil is watered with clean water straight from the Derwent River, and nourished with organic compost and seaweed fertilisers. Nutrient-rich cover crops are also mulched back into the tree rows for extra organic matter. These healthy, fertile soils together with the grove’s location, topography and rainfall have all added up to create extra virgin olive oils with a truly distinctive flavour. Each year, Ashbolt Farm’s First Harvest sells out during or shortly after the pre-order period. So, if you want to try this smooth-as-silk oil that’s bursting with freshness and a peppery zing, you’d better get in early. You can order Ashbolt Farm’s First Harvest at ashbolt.com.au
Australia’s largest olive oil producer, Cobram Estate, has hand-selected olives from specific blocks on its Boundary Bend olive groves to produce its limited-release Cobram Estate 2022 First Harvest extra virgin olive oil. Every olive season comes with different weather patterns, and the team at Cobram Estate monitors these conditions to determine which olive varieties are used in each year’s first harvest oil. This year, Cobram Estate’s 2022 First Harvest features olives from Hojiblanca, Picual and Coratina trees. The fruit is picked extra early while just starting to ripen. It’s then gently cold-pressed within four hours. The oil is vibrantly green and fruity, with herbaceous flavours and a spiciness that develops over time. Cobram Estate 2022 First Harvest is available at cobramestate.com.au
Want to try something a little different with your fresh EVOO this year? Check out this recipe for extra virgin olive oil ice cream. It might sound crazy, but trust us, it’s delicious.