RqFood Forage Safari 2012-Wild Olive Oil vs Cultivated Olive Oil

In my persuit to create exceptional skincare, I went on a wild olive foraging adventure in the Adelaide Hills. My sister and I had a fancy that we could press our own oil if we could harvest enough olives. It would cost us $75 to press 100 kg olives. Off we went to the hills in late June and still olives where everywhere along the side of the road. Wild olives, like wild apples are each unique and of variable quality, oil content and flavour. Most are small and bitter, hence cultivated varieties have been selected and constantly grafted, ensuring the new trees have the same properties as the parent. It is still possible to find good trees amongst the wild olives, and these trees are options for creating new cultivars, if you are so inclined.

Foraging for wild olives
Foraging for Wild Olives in the Adelaide Hills

We soon discovered that harvesting olives is not an easy business and we were hopelessly unprepared. Not to be daunted, we took home two buckets off two good trees. Not enough to press into oil, but plenty for a generous years supply of marinated olives. On the way back I stopped at a little farm gate olive oil producer and bought 4 liters of this seasons oil. I am not a fan of the bitterness that often is found in olive oil. This oil tasted good at the time, but once home I found it bitter and called the grower to check if I had bought the same oil that I had tried. I felt ripped off. $40 for something I don’t want to use for internal use. Not happy.

Once home I was still interested in making olive oil, so I took one bucket and mashed the olives to a pulp with some water. I figured oil rises? Maybe I could skim it off the top? No. Olive oil is emulsified into the fruit pulp. At that point I wanted to know how they extract this stuff, so I hopped on the net and found Barilla Olive Oil, near Gawler. I made contact with the owner Steve Barilla, and asked if he would be able to show me and my sister how olive oil is made and try his oil, and buy some if we liked it. He won an industry award gold medal in 2006 and silver and bronze every year since then. Plus he was close to where I was staying.

We had a laugh after a slight mix up where I mistook Steve’s son for Steve, who cautiously suspected we were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Once all was sorted and I met the real Steve, and he kindly showed us around his olive grove, explaining how he manages the scale infestation without chemicals by watching over his babies and simply pruning off any affected branches. I was really glad he said that, because by now I was getting excited about what he was doing and was wondering if I was meeting somebody who thinks like I do about growing food. 

We talked of loving the plants in our care, and humorously likening the trees to children, with shaping and pruning in the early years, discipline and training into adolescence and then, once into maturity they just bear graciously and reward us with joy for our hard work. The blessing of family is symbolized in a great life parable in the humble act of making olive oil.

I was recently asked why I use Barilla olive oil in my skincare. The answer is in the particular characteristics of the growing area. Olives are like grapes and many other food crops, in their responsiveness to local soil and climate characteristics which can give regional distinctions. The SA Barossa, region, home to some of the best red wines anywhere in the world, is one such area. It is red, sticky and lusty soil, pregnant with growing possibilities. Just add water and watch the magic happen. The flourishing local wild olive population confirms it; olives like Adelaide and the Barossa in particular. With a lot of cheap European oil and an uneducated Australian customer base, unaware of the difference in both the health properties and flavour between olive oil brands, gems like Barilla olive oil go unnoticed. I just really like his oil and believe in the integrity of the product. Steve is passionate about excellence, proving it by outlaying big money to bring into the country a specialist tree shaker and catcher specially designed to cause the least damage to the olives or the tree. This, combined with his chemical free growing methods and fast processing means his oil is very healthy and delicately flavoured without any trace of oxidative bitterness. It is fruity and mildly peppery and a versatile, all purpose olive oil.

Steve is also sending me up some of his “Naughty” Koroneiki oil. This is a classic Greek cultivar that is purportedly of robust fruit flavour and with a peppery after bite. This is normally mixed at a rate of 30:70 with his Italian Frantoio olives to make his standard blend which is more accessible to the Australian palate. He and his delightful wife Grace have so lovingly named the naughty koroneiki because the tree is rebellious to training. Like some kids! It just goes to show that loving persistence with those of wild spirit might just reap something deliciously useful.

I’m hoping it is worth it. It won him an industry gold medal, so I’m figuring he turned out to be a good loving disciplinarian. Will keep you posted.

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