It was definitely a big job this year, with some record volumes of olives picked, especially compared with last year’s crop. It looks like we were not the only ones faced with a big task to harvest the bumper crop. We had numerous calls from members of the public asking for help with their trees to make the most of the gluttony of olives. It seemed everybody in the region had a loaded olive tree or two in their yard!
Certainly high volumes of fruit are not a guarantee of olive oil quality, but it does give us little regional growers an opportunity to target a bigger share of the olive oil market in New Zealand, and hopefully get ahead in the international arena.
As local producers, we still need to work very hard to promote our product. The domestic consumer has a tendency to prefer cheaper (and rather uncertain) overseas versions of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) to our much fresher and tastier (and gentler on the carbon foot print) local olive oil. It is at times hard to explain all the work that goes into producing a single bottle of olive oil and the high standards that we, as an industry, set ourselves in order to compete in the market.
Public awareness and education on the merits and benefits of EVOO has grown by leaps and bounds and nowadays you would be hard pressed to find a household that doesn’t have a bottle of olive oil in the pantry. Whether they use it regularly, for cooking (not just for salad dressing or dipping) and enjoy the health benefits associated with a regular consumption of EVOO, it is the focus of our industry. New Zealanders consume an average of one litre of olive oil per person per year, but still relegate the consumption of extra virgin olive oil to ‘special occasions’, often unaware that, independently from being an excellent source of Omega 3, Omega 6 (the same amount as found in breast milk) and vitamin D, fresh genuine EVOO tastes delicious. So why not use it every day?
Consumers struggle to understand the significance and importance of the extra virgin and first press designation of high quality olive oil. It generally refers to the method of press and the temperature at which the olives get processed, but fundamentally it signals to the consumer that the product is intact in its nutritional values. In New Zealand, this is certified by our national body, Olives NZ. Our samples get sent to an independent laboratory in Australia (sigh, yes Australia) for certification. Upon certification we are entitled to use the red quality mark which appears on our bottles and the bottles of any other producer in New Zealand who adhere to this process. This is a critical quality mark that should be sought after by the consumer as a guarantee of what they are buying. Unfortunately, overseas EVOOs do not have a uniform standard of certification and some oils that state they are extra virgin may not be at all.
Bottom line is that buying local not only is better for the environment, but it also guarantees the standards of the producer; after all it is important to check the quality of what you eat! Our philosophy is that if you eat well, you will be well.