Justine George, “Tanglewood”, Moonbi, has taken a different approach to olive oil production, working on a biennial fruit cropping system to maximise production.
FRESH is best for Moonbi olive oil producer Justine George, “Tanglewood”.
Mrs George and her husband David produce olive oil at their 400-tree grove north of Tamworth and recently won best oil by a local producer at the NSW Northern Olive Oil Show, as well as picking up bronze and silver medals for their products.
Mrs George said freshness was a key part of what made their oil special – after being handpicked by the George family, the olives can be at the processing plant in nearby Limbri on the same day and that translated into better quality, fresher oil.
“The fruit’s not sitting around getting damaged,” she said.
“A lot of people have a lot of cartage and then the crop has to wait in line to be processed and that’s where the quality drops.”
The Georges produce extra virgin oil which is sold at local markets and at events such as Sydney Royal.
She said a bit of herself and her family went into every bottle.
“Being boutique, we’re very hands-on and probably very labour intensive,” she said.
“I like that, because I can see it from the moment it’s on the tree to the time we pick it, grade it and send it off.”
The Georges have used commercial harvesters in the past but have gone back to picking the olives by hand, using small rakes and caught in nets.
While son Conrad said the picking could be “tedious”, Mrs George said it was good old-fashioned (mandatory) family fun.
Mrs George then grades the fruit, checking for any impurities or imperfections.
Leaves are removed, the fruit is crated and sent for processing where it is washed in tepid water to be cleaned of any dust.
The fruit is then pressed and the oil left to stand for at least two months to allow olive fragments to settle.
The resulting oil is stored in stainless steel containers before it is taken back to “Tanglewood” to be bottled.
She said correct storage was one of the most important aspects of the oil making process.
“Olive oil will absorb anything you put with it – it’s amazing like that,” she said.
“So even in storage, you need to make sure no light or air gets to it.”
She said the oil would store well for up to two years but was best consumed within three months of harvest.
Olive trees at the “Tanglewood” grove were 15 years old and were irrigated in September most years.
“Olive trees are pretty special because as they bear fruit one year the new growth has already started for the next year, so you need water not just to produce the fruit for the current year but also to encourage the next crop,” Mrs George said.
The amount of water used depended on the season and the look of the trees – whether they’re stressed or whether they’re healthy, she said.
The biennial growing cycle of olives meant many Australian groves in which trees were all the same age produced good yields of fruit one year followed by virtually none the next.
Mrs George said she was trying to overcome the “feast or famine” scenario by pruning trees so half would bear fruit one year and the other half the following.
While the operation was not organically certified, Mrs George said she tried to avoid the use of chemicals.
The trees begin flowering about five months before harvest which begins in April and can last until June.
Harvesting for a period of several months gave the oil different tastes, dependent on what point in the growing cycle the fruit was harvested, Mrs George said.
“We like a softer, fruity oil so we tend to do a late harvest,” she said.
“We get more mature fruit so you have to be more gentle with it.”
Fruit from earlier harvests tended to make punchier, more pungent
The Georges’ oil is predominantly made from Frantoio olives which Mrs George said had been “magnificent” this year, yielding 27 per cent oil.
Kalamata olives were also grown at “Tanglewood”.
A damaging hail storm late last year coupled with fast maturing fruit meant production was down from a normal annual yield of between 600 to 800 litres to just 300L this season.
Article source TheLandAustralian Olive Oil Producer Success Story,