Although EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) is one of the most common pantry items in kitchens across the world, I'll admit that I didn't really know much about it at the time I received an invitation from Media Moguls to attend a Harvest Day at one of Cobram Estate's olive groves in Boort, Victoria. Apart from being able to identify the olive fruit, I had no clue what the leaves looked like and absolutely no idea how it differentiated from the other stuff in supermarkets labelled 'olive oil'.
So while this blog post may be a long one, I am sharing with you, everything I learnt that weekend about EVOO. This education has definitely helped me understand more about the production process but also what to look for when buying EVOO and more importantly, how to get the most out of such a marvelous product.
Boundary Bend is Australia's leading integrated olive company, with olive groves in Boundary Bend and Boort. As a vertically integrated olive company, Boundary Bend retains control over all of its operations, with no aspect of the production outsourced. Boundary Bend started off as a grove before integrating backwards by developing a nursery. The company then moved forward, developing and manufacturing custom-build proprietary harvesters, building Boundary Bend's processing plants and storage farms, installing their own bottling line and finally, marketing their Cobram Estate brand worldwide.
The Boort olive grove we're visiting today has over 997000 trees and covers 2777 hectares and is a three hour drive from Melbourne (near Bendigo). Of course we didn't drive... We were treated to a short flight from Essendon Airport on a restored DC-3!
Rather than have you read on and on about the harvesting process, I've put together a short video. Start your olive grove tour and hit play:
One of the most interesting things I picked up from the tour was that not all olive oils are the same. Extra-Virgin oils must have less than 0.8% acidity and no defects; Virgin oils have less than 2.0% acidity and slight defects; Lampante oils have more than 2.0% acidity but aren't suitable for direct human consumption, and then there's Olive Oil or Pure Olive Oil which is actually just refined oils combined with EVOO or VOO. All these different labels can be quite confusing so don't be fooled the next time you're shopping for Extra Virgin Olive Oil!
A big issue globally now, is that when analysing charts of world production and consumption, the discrepancies between the figures in these reports highlight that unfortunately, lots of Olive Oil has been passed off and sold to consumers as Extra Virgin Olive Oil! If you're interested in reading further about this, Google 'Olive oil regulation and adulteration'. Quite outrageous isn't it?
Another interesting thing to note, is that EVOO is a fresh product. What makes an outstanding Extra Virgin Olive Oil is its freshness, balance, aroma and flavour intensity and complexity. Cobram Estate achieves this by having healthy fruits, optimal harvesting management, prompt olive oil extraction, full traceability and processing and storage technology.
I think their 8 weeks of harvesting 24 hours a day is extremely impressive and goes to show their dedication in producing superior products. The whole process which I showed you in that video above means they can get the olive fruit off the tree and produced into EVOO, stored at their facility in under 12 hours.
Another thing I want to share with you is all the different varieties of EVOO available. Like wine, different blends of Extra Virgin Olive Oil is possible. The general olive oil consumer isn't really educated about this, but as a foodie, I think the awareness of these different varieties is important to the way we use it in our cooking.
For example, in the Cobram Estate range, there are these six:
Light & Delicate Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A blend of Arbequina, Barnea and Picual olives, this olive oil offers an interesting combination of mutliple fruit characters. These include sweetness on the palette of ripe olive fruit flavours and an apple aroma. The finish displays a mild bitterness and pungency that give the oil culinary versatility, and is ideal of stir-frying, barbecues, baking, sauteing and roasting. The oil's deicate nature also makes it a perfect substitute for butter and extra light olive oil.
Fresh & Fruity Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A blend of Barnea and Picual olives that combines fresh grassy aromas and sweet apple flavours with clear ripe tomato and rocket salad notes, Fresh and Fruity displays balanced medium bitterness and late pungency with a delicate almond aftertaste. This multi-purpose oil is ideal for sauteing, grilling roast vegetables and meats, salad dressings, sauces and as a dip for bread.
Rich & Robust Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Rich & Robust is a blend of Barnea, Coratina and Picual olives that combines fruit intensity, complexity, harmony and firm flavours to create a distinctive, robust style oil. The oil has a deep olive fruit character with typical notes of green apples, herbs and citrus zest. The finish displays a good balance between bitterness and firm pungency, and is best used in Mediterranean salads, stews and casseroles, pasta sauces and for drizzling over vegetables.
Premiere Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A blend of Coratina and Koroneiki olives, this olive oil features lifted grassy aromas with apple and floral notes and is of a moderate bitterness with a fresh, late pungency. The oil is typical of Tuscan oils from temperate to cold climates and is a multi-purpose oil that can be used in almost every occassion. It is particularly suited for enhancing the tomato and herb based sauces of pasta dishes.
Picual Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A single varietal oil, Picual is a Spanish olive variety originally grown in the Andalusia region. Picual demonstrates complex rocket salad, green tomato and tomato leaf aromas. The oil has a balanced mild bitterness and a medium peppery aftertaste. Picual is a versatile oil that can be used in salads, with pasta or for dipping with crusty bread.
Hojiblanca Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A single varietal oil, Hojiblanca is a Spanish olive variety. It displays intense apple aromas and vibrant tropical fruit driven flavours with a creamy finish. The oil has low levels of bitterness and a touch of pungency and is ideal for drizzling on seafood or mashed potatoes or as a substitute for butter.
We were also guided through a new season olive tasting session (EVOO tasters use the Wine Tasting Wheel as a reference) and fed a five course lunch featuring Cobram Estate's EVOOs, which was prepared by Gabriel Gate!
And besides requesting to have my photo taken with this esteemed French chef, I also requested for his recipe of the delectable dessert we were served. The sweet shortbread is amazing, so enjoy!
Recipe by Gabriel Gaté
500 g raspberries
juice of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 orange
2 tbsp caster sugar
150 g blueberries
100 g strawberries, cut into small pieces
150 g sweetened chestnut cream (from a can)
150 ml whipped cream
8 sweet olive oil shortbread biscuits (ingredients and steps for that are below)
a little icing sugar
100 g icing sugar
80 g butter, diced
200 g plain flour
80 ml Cobram Estate Hojiblanca extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp finely chopped almonds
6cm biscuit cutter
Place the icing sugar and butter in the bowl of a mixer and, using the beater attachment, mix until combined. Add the flour and, when just mixed, gradually add the olive oil. When almost combined, add the chopped almonds.
Form the dough into a ball and flatten slightly. If the dough is too sticky, dust it with a little flour. If too dry, add 1 tbsp cold water before forming it into a ball. Wrap in foil and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Cut the dough into 4 pieces and roll each piece out to a thickness of about 4 mm. It's easier to do this between two layers of baking paper lightly dusted with plain flour.
Using the biscuit cutter, shape as many biscuits as you can (makes about 20). Using a flat spatula, carefully lift the biscuits onto two baking trays lined with baking paper. Cook the biscuits in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes until golden brown.
Store the cooled biscuits in a tin.
In a small food processor blend 200 g of the raspberries with the lemon juice, orange juice and caster sugar. Strain into a bowl and discard the raspberry seeds. Add the blueberries and strawberries to the bowl.
In a separate bowl fold together the chestnut cream and whipped cream.
Spoon a little fruit mix in the centre of 8 dessert plates. Place 1 tbsp chestnut mixture in the centre and a circle of about 8 raspberries around the chestnut cream.
Gently place a biscuit on top, dust with icing sugar and garnish the centre with a raspberry. Serve immediately.
JENIUS' flights from Sydney, accommodation at The Langham, pre-arranged airport transfers and olive grove tour were courtesy of Cobram Estate.