'Dear Lizzy. The 2015 olive harvest is approaching and we'd love to invite you and Peter to join us with Kangaroo Valley Olives to be an olive farmer for a day,' came the delicious invitation from my friend and colleague, Jacqueline Weiley of Foodscape Tours.
Having previously harvested a mere dozen (12) of my own home-grown olives, the opportunity to get my hands dirty in a full scale olive grove sounded too good to miss. Besides, I'd heard plenty of great things about Kangaroo Valley Olives from my friend, Brenda Sambrook, one of the growers. Plus it had been way too long since we'd visited the Kangaroo Valley area, AND I'd been wanting to do a Foodscape Tour with Jacqueline for the last couple of years, but somehow the ducks just never seemed to line up. So, I said to Peter 'let's do this.'. My postcards and morsels from the day follow:
Welcome to Foodscape Tours and Kangaroo Valley Olives...
On our arrival at Wombat Ridge Farm, Jacqueline and Brenda are buzzing back and forth from the commercial kitchen out to the al fresco dining area, welcoming guests and making sure that there are plenty of refreshments available.
After a bite to eat and a cuppa, Jacqueline welcomes the visiting group and tells us that the morning will be spent touring the property and harvesting olives, before we head back to the brine room, where we'll learn about the processing of olives. 'After your hard work, you'll have the chance to taste a range of Kangaroo Valley Olives (KVO) products, before sitting down to a delicious Harvesters' Lunch that will showcase local produce. Sounds perfect to me!
Then Brenda gives a warm welcome to the group of visiting 'farmers' and explains the philosophy behind Kangaroo Valley Olives and the process of growing the fruit. 'It's a good year to come for the olive harvest, as there are plenty of olives on the trees. Not only is this our first time hosting the harvest tour experience, this will also be our first full harvest,' she says with a smile.
Being in the company of a passionate grower and producer, like Brenda, is an interesting experience and the group is keen to learn more. 'At Kangaroo Valley Olives, our aim is to bring a true, high-quality Kangaroo Valley grown product to the market place,' Brenda tells us.
'Kangaroo Valley is part of the South Coast and Shoalhaven. It's a very good secret and we think what we have here is spectacular and we want to get it out to the wider community. We are blessed with a great climate and great soil. We treat what we grow with respect and do not adulterate the product. The olives stay as natural as possible and get from the tree to the table without too much fiddling by ourselves. By choosing to do everything on site, we can control every single step of the process - from how the trees are grown, to how we feed and look after our olives, and to how the olives are harvested. We are able to get the olives from the tree into a brine or into the press within two hours. All of these things make a major contribution to our finished product,' Brenda adds.
As we are to discover later when we sit down to the Harvesters' Lunch, Brenda is an excellent cook. 'I love food, so everything made here is done to my tastebuds.' Brenda says. 'Of course we follow the steps that must be followed, but the things we produce must suit my palate. I put together the recipes because they're ideas that have come from my travels. Up until about three years ago, I used to travel very extensively in different regions all over Europe and that's where a lot of my inspiration comes from. Also, my parents were European and our lives were focused around family and sharing food. My mother is a fantastic cook, so my interest in food was sparked while I was very young. While I grew up here in Australia, European food is a favourite. So that's what we're trying to do with the produce we create at Kangaroo Valley Olives. We are a boutique producer. We don't make much, but we make the best.'
The olive harvest...
Bags draped over our shoulders and ready for the challenge to be olive farmers for the day, we make our way down a gravel track to the olive groves. The views to the valley and surrounding high country are nothing short of breathtaking and I find myself staring constantly into the distance. Truth be told, I took more photographs than picked olives!
'We'll be harvesting table olives today, and the way we do that is pick one olive off a tree at a time,' Brenda tells the group. 'That is one by one. It's a time consuming business and is the start of the process that will give us the quality of the olives that we are after. We can therefore go straight from the trees to the table. We don't want any holes in them because when we preserve our olives we don't break the skin of our olives at all. We don't slit them, we don't prick them, or smash them, and we don't remove the seed,' she explains. 'We believe that as soon as the olive has come off the tree, it's starting to deteriorate. The beauty of having only Kangaroo Valley Olives is that we can get them into the barrels very, very quickly.'
On picking the olives for oil, Brenda says: 'This year we will be trialling rakes on my property when we harvest the olives for oil, later in the season. In the past I have always hand picked every single olive for oil as well. There is some recent literature that states that it might actually be better than raking. I haven't quite determined why, but I think it's because of the length of time between getting the olives from the tree to the press. But we don't have that problem because we press ourselves as well.'
Under the guidance of Dean Devenish, farm manager, and Brenda, the group starts harvesting leccino olives. 'Remember, pick them one at a time, like this,' Dean reaches into the branches of a tree to show us.
Also a local, Dean tells me that he and his wife come from a rural and farming background. He is extremely passionate about his work in the olive grove and has been with Kangaroo Valley Olives for two years or so. 'Working out in the open is just sensational,' he says. 'They say you don't work a day in your life if you enjoy what you are doing. And just look at this,' he says, spreading his arms and showing me the vista of his office. 'It's heaven on a stick,' he exclaims with a smile.
Introducing a KVO grower...
Kangaroo Valley Olives is a boutique olive producer made up of three growers who are all Kangaroo Valley locals. The growers are Brenda Sambrook, who owns Wombat Ridge Farm; Andrew and Susan Morrison, who own Timber Creek; and Alastair and Molly Stevenson, who own Bangalay in the Upper River. Initially the growers did not know each other. Each of them had bought land and all had planted olives. Brenda explains: 'We were moseying along and then on one occasion we were all brought together. So we thought, why don't we try and combine the fruit of our labours and market it under the one label and that's Kangaroo Valley Olives.' Between them, the growers now have 2,000 trees and all the olives used in the making of table olives, oils and other products have come from one of those groves.
In this short video that I've cobbled together, Brenda tells us about Kangaroo Valley Olives, her olive grove and farm at Wombat Ridge, and how she and her late husband, Professor Philip Sambrook, came to acquire the property.
Weighing and tasting...
Harvest finished for the time being, we assembled in the processing room, where Dean and Brenda weighed each person’s olive bag. One harvester was awarded the top prize, having picked almost five kilos of leccino olives in the hour we spent in the groves! In total, the 'farmers' in the group picked 44 kilograms of top quality olives. After weighing our haul, Brenda explained the process involved with taking olives from the tree to the table, and also about pressing olives for oil. Quality and freshness is paramount, so having an olive press on site means that the olives are processed very soon after they are picked. 'We do everything here ourselves, including pressing the oil,' Brenda explains. 'So we really control everything. If it's great, we take the credit, if it's not, then we hide,' she laughs.
The extensive range of Kangaroo Valley Olives products...
The range of Kangaroo Valley Olives products includes whole olives (natural or infused with herbs and spices); extra virgin olive oils (single estate varietals, premium blends and infused oils); white and caramelised balsamic vinegars; spicy and crunchy dukkah; together with sweet or savoury tapenades. Kangaroo Valley Olives are available online and in a number of outlets in the Kangaroo Valley hamlet. You will also find them at the Kangaroo Valley Farmer's Market on the second Sunday of every month.
The Harvesters' Lunch...
Next, we joined our fellow olive farmers for a banquet-style lunch in the most beautiful setting. With views of the mist rolling in across the valley, we enjoyed local estate grown wines from Yarrawa Estate, served with slow-roasted Greek-style shoulder of lamb (recipe below), a roasted vegetable salad and a crisp green salad (both dressed with Kangaroo Valley Olives oils and balsamic vinegars), roasted carrots and potatoes, and crusty bread. This was followed by morsels of a superb chocolate beetroot cake and apricot meringue slice made by Jacqueline's mum, Rita Weiley, as well as a moist and flavourful orange and almond cake baked by Jacqueline.
Rita has kindly shared her recipe for the rich and delicious chocolate beetroot cake that she baked for the lunch. Please watch this space for my (gluten free) take on the recipe, coming soon.
And, lastly, a recipe...
Brenda has kindly shared her recipe for the slow roasted Greek style lamb shoulder that was served at the lunch. It is an adaptation of a Matt Moran recipe. See Brenda's variations below.
SLOW ROASTED GREEK STYLE LAMB SHOULDER
1 boned lamb shoulder, about 1.5kg, cut into pieces
(Have some of the excess fat removed, but not all of it. Your butcher will debone and defat if you ask.)
For the marinade:
Juice of two lemons
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons dried Greek oregano
6 large sprigs thyme, roughly chopped
6 large sprigs rosemary, plus extra to decorate
5 cloves garlic, crushed or thinly sliced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Begin this recipe the day before. In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients, except the lamb, salt and pepper. Add the lamb to the marinade. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours, and up to 24 hours.
Preheat oven to about 150 degrees C. Place the meat and the marinade into a roasting tin and season well with the salt and pepper. Roast the lamb for 3-4 hours, basting it from time to time with cooking juices and fat. When the meat is cooked, leave it to rest for at least 20 minutes before carving or pulling it apart. Decorate with sprigs of fresh rosemary before serving. Serves 4-6.
Brenda's variations and notes:
The Good Things team participated in the 2015 Autumn Harvest of Kangaroo Valley Olives at Wombat Ridge in the stunning Kangaroo Valley of New South Wales as guests of Brenda Sambrook, olive grower, and Jacqueline Weiley, Foodscape Tours. Thank you so much, all! It was a truly interesting, thoroughly delicious and enjoyable experience! In an upcoming Good Things, I'll share more postcards and morsels from our stay in the region.
Brenda and Jacqueline have already discussed options for events ahead of the 2016 harvest, including learning how to press olive oil. Stay tuned here and on my Facebook page for news of these events. I'll let you know as soon as I hear.
The next Foodscape Tour to the South Coast is a Foodie's Indulgence Tour, which will be held on Saturday, 16 May 2015. Jacqueline promises a great day out showcasing growers and producers in the region. For bookings or more information about gourmet food and wine tours with Foodscape, please visit the web site.
Kangaroo Valley Olives conduct tours at Wombat Ridge Farm (outside of harvest time) for groups (pre booked and at a cost). Tours encompass a visit to the groves, the processing room and all that entails along, followed by a visit to the tasting room. For further information about Kangaroo Valley Olives, their tours, and their selection of artisan products, please click here.
So tell me dear readers, have you ever spent the day as an olive farmer? Do you grow or preserve your own olives? Have you been tempted to taste a raw olive? And have you ever visit the beautiful Kangaroo Valley in New South Wales? (If you haven't, you simply must!).
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
Join me as I share with you my favourite recipes, postcards and morsels from my adventures, conversations with cookery writers
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.