Australia on track for record olive oil crop

Posted by Josette Dunn on 5th May 2010

Following a record extra virgin olive oil harvest of 15 million litres in 2009, good rainfall and climate conditions this season means that Australia is on track for another bumper year with 17 million litres predicted for 2010. Harvesting is underway in most states and will continue across Australia through to July.

Most of Australia’s olives are grown in the east, south and west of the country, with Victoria producing a significant majority of olive oil. Most of the world’s major olive varieties (cultivars) are grown here and harvest time varies according to state.

Comments Paul Miller, President of the Australian Olive Association: “Generally speaking the main harvest time is April with all harvesting and bottling done by July. Queensland tends to be the first to start and finish due to its climate, with the rest of the country following.”

The extraction of oil from olives is a relatively straightforward process involving only a couple of critical steps. Australian olive oil producers know that if they use undamaged olives, process them quickly after picking, employ the services of a spotlessly clean mill and don’t strive for excessive extraction, quality extra virgin olive oil will result.

Extra virgin olive oil is made from perfect olives crushed as soon as possible after the olives are picked. The oil is extracted without the use of chemicals or excessive heat to ensure that its health benefits, flavour and freshness are maximised.

Extra virgin olive oils can be intensely flavoured and can also be strongly pungent. Many ‘early harvest’ styles often fit in this category. Others can be very fruity with only hints of bitterness and pepper, while ‘late harvest’ styles are typically mild with very ripe fruity flavours.

There are different grades of olive oil, and it’s important to know what you’re buying, says Paul: “Extra virgin olive oil is oil that has never been through a reining process and is acknowledged to be superior due to its taste and health benefits. Oils labelled as ‘pure olive oil’ are usually a blend of extra virgin or virgin and refined olive oil, and lacks both the olive flavour and the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil.

“Refined olive oil is produced from an oil refinery process used to make initially rancid olive oil fit for human consumption. The refining process removes most of the beneficial minor components that make true extra virgin olive oil so desirable.

“Be aware of terms like ‘light’ as this refers to a lack of flavour only and has nothing to do with calories or colour.”

This year’s estimated record extra virgin olive oil crop will be available from August and Leandro Ravetti, Senior Horticulturist & Olive Specialist at the Modern Olives Laboratory in Victoria, says that the quality of the 2010 crop is excellent.

“What we’re finding this year is that the good rainfall and conditions have really helped the trees to grow. The summer rainfall also means that the early harvest oils are indicating a milder, mellow and very balanced flavour.

“The good conditions also mean that we’re on track for a great 2011 with 20 million litres predicted,” said Leandro.

To ensure that consumers can be certain that they are buying the highest Australian quality, the Australian Olive Association has introduced a Code of Practice, which guarantees the authenticity and quality of certified Australian extra virgin olive oil.

Those growers who sign up to the Code are required to ensure that their oils meet defined quality criteria, are Australian, and meet taste requirements before being able to display the certification symbol on their product. The Code of Practice symbol distinguishes quality certified Australian products from all others in local and international marketplaces.

There are currently 87 Australian producers signed up to the Code of Practice as well as grocery retailer ALDI, which uses the Code as its own internal standard for all of its extra virgin olive oils.