Freshfield Grove

Tales of Tasmanian Adventures in Olive Oil

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Newsletter – February 2017

Click here to read the February 2017 Newsletter, with news of my adventures in and out of the grove…


Busy Weekend

I started writing this a while ago, but then got sidetracked and never quite got around to getting it posted. But it was a fun weekend, although a bit hectic, and I wanted to share some of the things I’d got up to! I felt as if I hadn’t achieved much that weekend, but looking back, I’d got through quite a lot!

pruning freshfield grove olive

Pruning has been continuing, but it’s felt like slow progress at times. The area of the grove I’m working on has some of the bigger trees, with quite complex branch structures. I’m trying to simplify the main branches to 3 or 4 coming off the trunk at just over a metre height, but it’s difficult to do this without removing too much of the canopy. Added to this, it sometimes feels as if the trees aren’t happy about what I’m up to, and are fighting back. The leaves are just the right size and shape to poke me in the eyes, ears, and nose! The branches I want to prune are often just slightly too high, so I’m stretching up on my toes to try and reach. While still being VERY careful not to get my fingers anywhere near the powered secateurs!

When I cut one successfully, it seems that the branches try to hit me on the head on the way down. Pointy end first… I feel as if I’m under attack! And then I look around, and it feels as if the grove goes on forever! But I am almost done. Out of our 1000 or so trees, there are only about 125 left to go. And then it’ll be pretty much time to start again! I think it’s going to be like the Sydney harbour bridge…

Sydney Harbour Bridge at night

Sydney Harbour Bridge at night

When I’ve been getting overwhelmed by the pruning it’s hard to know whether to just keep going, or take a break! But I’ve been doing a few other things in between. I’m still experimenting with the olive leaf tea, and I have a couple of new batches to taste and compare with the original. One is dried at a lower temperature for longer, and another two have been steamed before drying, which halts the oxidation process. These different methods slightly alter the concentration of various compounds, and therefore alter the taste. The colour of the tea is also altered, as you can see from the photos (although I ran out of white mugs, so it’s a little hard to see).

olive leaf tea tasting freshfield grove

Also on the development board are olive oil granola bars. I’m in the amazing position of being able to get tons of fantastic local ingredients, so local rolled oats (rolled at Callington Mill, a Georgian windmill in Oatlands), local honey, local walnuts, butter, and olive oil. I’m looking for local dried fruit to add to the mix too. These bars vanish as fast as I bake them – I had been worried that if I was baking several times a week that I’d struggle to find homes for all the goodies, but this hasn’t been the case so far!

olive oil granola bars freshfield grove

And in between all this, I managed to fit in an evening visit to Whisky Live in Hobart, and a lunchtime trip to my friends at Wobbly Boot Vineyard for their quarterly fundraiser!

Whisky Live was an amazing event. It felt quite pricy when I bought the ticket at $99, but with well over 100 whiskies to taste from global distilleries, and a pretty constant flow of food and nibbles, it was worth every cent! I went through the event booklet afterwards, and although I felt I’d tasted most of what was there, it seems I managed less than 30. There were spittoons, but really, I wasn’t going to use them! I’m proud to say though that I ended the night vertical! There were about 30 stands, some for just one distillery, and others representing several. Some had just one or two to taste, and a few had more than five! The atmosphere was really relaxed and friendly, and although the event was busy, there was little time spend waiting for a drink! One of my more competitive companions was keen to make sure he tasted EVERYTHING on offer, but I can’t vouch for his state of health the next day! My overall favourite was probably the Sullivans Cove Double Cask, which seemed to me to be a very easy drinking tipple…

whisky live hobart tasmania

Anyway, after this, Sunday got off to a bit of a slow start! We had bacon and eggs cooked on the BBQ, with the compulsory Aussie side of avocado (I’m trying to identify a suitable avocado growing zone on the farm!) After breakfast I headed out to do some pruning, before setting off to Wobbly Boot. I hadn’t been sure what to expect, as I hadn’t been able to make their previous Anzac Day event, but as I approached, idly wondering what they’d do about parking, it became apparent that this was a well-organised operation! A fluorescent jacket-wearing gentleman greeted my car on approach to take the $10pp entry fee (incl delicious homemade soup and bread), and direct me to parking. Cars were parked on the side of the road, with 4WDs at the edge of the paddock. There’s been a huge amount of rain in Tas, after months of drought conditions, and there were concerns that cars would get bogged in the muddy ground. I parked the Hilux, and got Blizzard out. I’d left Gunner at home because he’s much too excitable around other dogs! And there were LOTS!

The fundraising was in aid of Small Paws Animal Rescue, and the event has a tagline of “Wine and Woofs”. Wobbly Boot has a very proactive “dogs welcome” attitude, and have even got two secure dog areas, one for big dogs, and one for small. They are in an amazing setting, fairly high up in the Coal River Valley, and it was fabulous to see so many dogs and their humans having fun together there. I love the Wobbly Boot Pinot Noir, but after such a whisky-laden night I stuck to the soft drinks!

wobbly boot pinot noir

Blizzard had a ball (she’s been to Wobbly Boot before, to help with the pruning!) and loved having a good sniff around. Lots of people had brought picnics and BBQs as it was BYO food, with Wobbly Boot wine, and a selection of Tassie beers available to buy. So plenty of good smells and new friends!

I’d arranged to meet Desma from ourstoryhouse ceramics at Wobbly Boot, as I’m on a mission at the moment to find some locally made ceramic tea strainers! They have a beautiful range of cups (amongst other things), and they’ve kindly said they’ll look into some strainer designs for me! I’m very excited, as I love beautiful, handmade items like these. I really feel that they add to the whole experience and ceremony of drinking tea and coffee with friends. By a happy coincidence, it turned out that they had recently adopted a dog from Small Paws, so it seemed very fitting that we could meet at a fundraiser for them!

After that it was back to the ranch for the final pruning session of the weekend, and I managed to finish the row I was working on before the sun went down! FFx

sunset gum tree campania freshfield grove


Share Your World – 2015 Week #8

Second week I’ve given this “Share Your World” challenge from Cee a go. Answers needing a bit more thought this week. Hmmm…

Your favorite blog post that you have written? (add link)

I think probably this one about how many of our Tasmanian picual olives it takes to make a litre of extra virgin olive oil, because it’s the best infographic I’ve done. I used Canva, which is a web based graphic design program. It’s an Australian company, quite new, which has grown pretty quickly. There are loads of templates for all sorts of print and web applications, and you can either edit them or make your own. It’s great fun, and free to use, unless you want to add any of the stock graphics which are $1 each. (You can upload and use your own photos for free.) My challenge here was to create the infographic using free elements only. Click here to read the full post!

Infographic - How much extra virgin olive oil do you get from a Tasmanian picual olive tree?

What do you feel is the most enjoyable way to spend $500? Why?

A party to catch up with friends! I’d have a BBQ. And music, and maybe some dancing. We (well my husband!) has been homebrewing for a while, so there’d be plenty of beer 🙂

If you could know the answer to any question, besides “What is the meaning of life?”, what would it be?

I would love to know the answer to “What date will our olives be ready to pick and press this year?” It’d be really helpful to know so I could plan around it! I love planning…

Where do you eat breakfast?

During the week, usually in the kitchen. At the weekend, usually outside. Love bacon and eggs on the BBQ as a weekend treat.

Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

Last week two books I’d requested from the library came in – I’ve got “The One Straw Revolution” by Masanobu Fukuoka, and “Introduction to Permaculture” by Bill Mollison. And this week we’re off to Melbourne for a couple of days to go to a wedding – can’t wait!! Might even get some time to read those books while I’m away… FFx


We have labels!

extra virgin olive oil labels freshfield grove 2014

It seems, finally, that we are ready to actually sell some oil! All the component pieces are now in our possession, the last ones being labels and pourers. I can’t believe how long it’s all taken, but I guess it’s the first time we’ve done anything like this! We didn’t order anything in advance because to begin with we had no idea what volume we would be dealing with. And then we decided to wait for our oil to be tested to make sure it met all the lab parameters for Extra Virgin quality.

The timing is great because we have our first event on Thursday 30th October. We’re taking part in the expo for this “Spring Clean Your Life”  event organised by Y.E.S! Sydney in support of Dress for Success. There’ll be opportunities to taste our oil, get recipe ideas, find out why EVOO is sooo amazing, and talk to us about why we set off on this adventure in the first place. Excited, but a little nervous! FFx

Y.E.S! Sydney poster spring clean your life


Australian Olive Conference write-up

I was pretty lucky that this year the Australian Olive Association (AOA) conference was held in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales, less than a 2 hour drive from Sydney. And since we still mostly live in Sydney (boo!) instead of Tasmania, it was really easy to get to (hooray!) It was the first time I’d been, and I loved every minute. It was awesome to meet so many passionate olive growers, and reassuring that a fair number of them had leapt into the business with as little experience as we have. And now they’re producing amazing award winning Extra Virgin Olive Oils 🙂

Cherry blossoms around the pool in the spring sunshine.

Cherry blossoms around the pool in the spring sunshine.

It was held at the Mercure Resort Hunter Valley Gardens in Pokolbin, which is a beautiful setting. The cherry blossoms were out in force and the clouds of pink flowers looked amazing. I’d decided to splash out and stay there, and now I want to go back just for a little holiday. It’s the only place I’ve stayed with a sunken bath! And lovely private terraces outside the rooms. And walking distance to five wineries!! Not sure how much walking I’d be doing after tastings at five wineries, but I’d give it a go… Actually I suppose you wouldn’t have to do them all in one day!

The conference was held over three days, with the first and last indoors at the conference venue, and the middle day out at Adina Vineyard and Olive Grove for workshops and practical demonstrations. The organisers had hired an external facilitator (Ian Plowman) and he did a great job of making the sessions interactive and keeping to time. There were a few puzzled murmurs at the start when he offered guidelines for sessions, but it all worked really well. (There were a few fun props too- do you see the fuzzy rubber ball, the timer, and the pipe cleaners on the table in the photo below?) We sat at tables instead of in rows, and had time for table discussions before questions being opened up to the floor again. Everyone moved seats at the change of every session, and this was a brilliant way to meet other delegates. Especially for me, with sooo many people I didn’t know.

Dr Joanna McMillan, Keynote Speaker, Australian Olive Association Conference 2014.

Dr Joanna McMillan, Keynote Speaker, Australian Olive Association Conference 2014.

Dr Joanna McMillan was the keynote speaker and she spoke about Olive Oil and Health. She’s a passionate advocate for the role that EVOO can play in a healthy diet. (Did any of you see the advert that she did with the AOA to promote fresh Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil at the start of the year? I’ve added it below.) It was great to hear her discussing various research studies providing evidence for the health benefits of EVOO, which cross so many different diseases. It’s been shown to have a positive benefit in cardiovascular disease, play a protective role in some cancers (specifically colon and breast), and also reduces symptoms in some inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. I don’t think any other fats have so much positive research to support their inclusion in our diet. Take home message for me – Eat (even) More Extra Virgin Olive Oil!

Talking of food, the first night was the AOA Gala Awards Dinner. The awards were presented in sections between courses, so we didn’t get hungry and restless! I’d happily have eaten anything on this menu, but I was pretty happy with the way the food was dropped (tuna, steak, chocolate). I found the alternate serve thing a bit odd the first time I came across it but it seems common in Australia, and I’m getting used to it. The Best Oil in Show went to Red Island, and Tasmanian awards included Cradle Coast Olives (Best in Class – Ultra Boutique), and Ashbolt Farm (Top State – Tasmania). If you’d like to see a full list of the awards, then the results booklet can be downloaded from the AOA website here.

Day two was out in the fresh air, at Adina Vineyard and Olive Grove. The heavy rains we’ve had recently in NSW had thankfully stopped, and it was a glorious day, although still pretty chilly when the sun set. Adina are one of the Hunter Valley olive producers, and do a lot of contract pressing with their 2 ton per hour press (compare that to our puny 80kg/hr!) They were fabulous hosts, and organised a delicious BBQ lunch, with some of their EVOO and wine. What could be better? Several manufacturers had brought equipment to demonstrate, and although we’ve really got everything we need at the moment there’s lots of cool stuff I want! Various gizmos to make life in the grove easier, particularly at pruning and harvesting time. I got some great tips on pruning from some other growers, and tried out some lovely, light Felco loppers (I’ve got weedy arms!) We had very practical presentations on table olive production and pressing olives for extra virgin olive oil. So many things for me to put into practice… We got a tour of Adina’s amazing press too. And in the evening The Olive Centre put on another BBQ and a glow in the dark spraying demonstration! (My iphone camera wasn’t really up to the job for this bit!)

This is a long post for me – I’m getting tired! If you’re still with me, then I’ll keep day three brief. We had talks and discussions on healthy trees, healthy soils, and keeping pests and diseases at bay. Then a very fun exercise in blending EVOO. This was run by Richard Gawal, a very experienced Australian EVOO judge, taster, and blender. We had samples A, B, and C, and had to work out what proportion of each was in the test blend “T”.  My table got pretty close on our first attempt, but then further efforts sadly took us further away from the correct percentages, so we didn’t win the bottle of wine on offer 😦

The last sessions were a fascinating presentation on the world of pickled vegetable sales (I know that sounds unlikely, but trust me!) by Mimmo Lubrano from Sandhurst Fine Foods , then the AOA AGM, and finally a discussion of healthy industry associations and leadership. I was sad to leave and drive back to Sydney, not least because I never got a chance to try out that sunken bath!


Olive Poo

The human body has inspired plenty of art, usually depicting a traditional view of beauty. Our bodies are amazing as well as beautiful though, and there are lots of functions which we don’t readily consider when we think about art. You may have heard of MONA? The Museum of Old and New Art, in Tasmania. Within an architecturally amazing structure, dug deep down into the limestone, is an equally amazing collection of art. Old and new, as the name suggests. The contemporary stuff is brilliant. I often find modern art rather pointless, but this collection is emotive and provides plenty to think about, although some of it I admit I don’t really like. My first visit was the day after a BIG house-warming party. I thought perhaps the disorientation was due to the late night, but subsequent visits reveal this to be standard. For me anyway! There’s an exhibit there called “Cloaca” by Wim Delvoye. It’s a large installation that simulates the entire digestive tract, including the olfactory aspects! The artist’s website is pretty unique too; I thought I’d clicked on a fake link when the page loaded.

The production of extra virgin olive oil also results in a by-product. It’s called olive pomace, and it’s the first thing to come out of the press, before the oil starts. Those ten minutes or so between the pomace outflow starting and the oil are pretty nail-biting! We found the pomace unexpectedly entertaining though. It’s arguably less artistic than a MONA exhibit, but it’s like our own mini cloaca. And it’s much pleasanter to be surrounded by the aroma of freshly pressed olives, than that of the real Cloaca!

There’s a lot of pomace produced in the olive industry. EVOO is only about 10-20% by weight of the olive fruit submitted for pressing, so there’s a lot of pomace to dispose of. Some is used in the production of lower grades of oil. This is extracted using very high temperatures and solvents and then deodorised, resulting in an oil with none of the flavour or health benefits of EVOO. This should be labelled as olive-pomace oil – don’t be fooled into thinking it’s extra virgin! (There’s a good diagram and explanation of olive oil grades here, on the Australian Olive Association website.) Pomace is also used for a variety of other applications including animal feeds and composting, and this is what we aim to do with ours. The end product of “Cloaca” is sold by the artist, but sadly I don’t think little nuggets of olive pomace will command the same value! FFx

Olive pomace

Gallons of olive pomace…


Should we use Australian Made bottles?

australianmade tasmanian olive oil evoo bottle

I’ve been looking at packaging for our olive oil and one decision is which bottles to use. There are lots of lovely bottles around but our options this year are pretty limited, as many are only available by the pallet and we’re looking at smaller volumes than this.

We’re keen to use other Australian products where we can, partly to support other Aussie industries, and partly to try and keep the overall food miles down. It’s been more difficult than I thought though, to find Australian packaging. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. I knew it would be more expensive, but I still expected to have the option. Glass manufacturing in Australia includes flat glass production, and container glass. The container glass market has shrunk considerably in the face of much cheaper imports from overseas in recent years, particularly China. As far as I can determine, there are no Australian manufacturers of olive oil bottles, but it is possible to get Australian-made wine bottles.

olive oil evoo australian made bottle

The problem with wine bottles is that the neck size is ever so slightly different, and the regular easy pour, non-drip olive oil inserts don’t fit them. I’ve managed to find some Australian made claret-style wine bottles in a 375ml size, and I think I’ve also found some separate pourers to fit them (no luck with Australian made for these though). But they are more expensive.

So, my question is: Would you be prepared to pay about $1 more for a local product in local packaging? Or should we just get the cheapest available?

And if anyone happens to know of any other Australian, or even better Tasmanian, manufacturers of glass bottles or pourer spouts, then please let me know! FFx


Just a quickie. Checked my email at the end of a long day, to find the lab report for our olive oil sample. It was like opening exam results. Nervewracking! But … we passed the quality parameters, so our oil is indeed Extra Virgin!! It’s hard to explain exactly how exciting this is. EVOO has to have a free fatty acid level equal to or less than 0.8%. And ours is 0.3% 🙂 Other things get measured too, but I’ll tell you about them another time. Now I better sort out some bottles and labels… FFx

Picual olives, just about to be picked!

Picual olives, just about to be picked!


Olive Harvest Wrap-up

Lots of people have asked how we got on with our first olive harvest, and I thought it was about time I got a post together about it. We’ve been so busy with our regular jobs since we finished harvesting and pressing that there hasn’t really been time to sit down and think about it. We can’t wait until the farm is our regular job, but that’s still some way off. It’s kind of frustrating, because there are soooo many things we want to do with the place, but while we’re not able to live there full time we’re fairly limited. We do appreciate though that we are incredibly lucky to have found this farm, which we love so much already, and that we’ve been able to get this far with it. So although as a generation we’re not known for our patience, it’s something we’ll have to accept!

Is there gold at the end of this rainbow?

Is there gold at the end of this rainbow?

So, olive harvesting. And pressing. We knew it was going to be a challenge, and we’d done everything we could to prepare for it, but wow! Easily the steepest learning curve I’ve been on since graduating and that first day at work. I tend to beat myself up about things, and I keep thinking we could have done more, but really I know that we did as much as we could in the time we had. Both in terms of pre-harvest prep, and while we were there.

Us hard at work on a day with a chilly wind.

Us hard at work on a day with a chilly wind.

The most important thing to us at the moment is that we enjoyed every minute. We were exhausted pretty much all the time, but with smiles on our faces. We were exceptionally lucky with the weather, which was very mild for the time of year. We’d taken thermals and loads of layers (and hats, gloves, and scarves) but many days we didn’t need them. I never dreamt I’d be harvesting olives in Tasmania, in winter, in a T-shirt!

We loved being outside in the clear, fresh Tasmanian air, with fabulous views of the Coal River Valley all around us, and blue skies above. And at night the stars were amazing, with a big splash of Milky Way.

The last sun of the day hitting the hills beyond the olive grove.

The last sun of the day hitting the hills beyond the olive grove.

The olive trees are beautiful, even though ours are young, and not the ancient knarled, knotted, twisted ones. There’s something meditative about picking by hand. Just concentrating on the job and hearing the birds twittering, and the neighboring lambs baa-ing. Or chatting and catching up with the wonderful friends and family who came to help out. Not only did they come and pick olives, they brought us food, invited us round for dinner, helped us figure out the press, admired the farm, and didn’t ever tell us they thought we were insane.

We only picked a fraction of the olives in the grove. Once we realised what sort of proportion we were going to get around we concentrated on the fruit which was easiest to get to, and left the stuff which was too high. We managed to get the press working, although it took me about an hour to work out how to plug it in and turn it on! We were very, very excited when oil first flowed out, on what turned out to be a rather late night as everything obviously took longer than expected…

Picual olives waiting to go into the press.

Picual olives waiting to go into the press.

Well, this post has got longer than I’d planned, and I haven’t really got very far in telling you about anything! But I need to get back to doing some boring paperwork type stuff, so I’ll write more in coming posts about what we did, and what we want to do over the next twelve months. And if there’s anything you’d like to know, please ask. For now I’ll leave you with a picture of our pungent and peppery extra virgin olive oil 🙂 FFx

EVOO flowing (ok, maybe trickling is more accurate) out of our press.

EVOO flowing (ok, maybe trickling is more accurate) out of our press.


Is your olive oil cold pressed?

Snow on the top of Mount Wellington, Tasmania.

Snow on the top of Mount Wellington, Tasmania.

The answer to this question is yes, insofar as almost any extra virgin olive oil is these days! Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is oil extracted from olive fruit using only mechanical means, without the use of solvents or excessive temperatures (less than 30degC, or 86degF). Applying heat increases oil extraction, but causes a reduction in quality with increased acidity and a shorter shelf life. Extra virgin olive oil also has to pass a chemical test in a laboratory and a sensory test by a trained tasting panel. Yes, that’s actual people!

There are three main stages to getting olive oil out of the olive fruit:

  1. Crushing: The whole olive fruit (including the stones) is crushed into a paste, breaking the olive cell membranes and releasing the olive oil.
  2. Malaxing: The paste is mixed or stirred to get the small oil droplets to combine into larger drops (see note at end).
  3. Separation of the oil from the waste material: This is now usually by centrifugation, but traditionally was by spreading the olive paste onto discs and applying pressure either by a long lever or screw (kind of like a giant version of those little toys for pressing flowers), or by a hydraulic mechanism.
Flower press like old olive oil press

Available on ebay…

The terms “cold pressed” or “first cold pressed” really refers to when olive oil was produced using pressure to separate the oil. Nowadays, the term cold extraction might be more technically correct, but cold pressed is so widely used in the everyday language of olive oil, that it’s difficult to change. Continue reading