A CURIOSITY over old olive trees growing on historic farms has turned into gold for a northeast couple. Over the past 20 years Eberhard Kunze and Maureen Titcumb have propagated tens of thousands of olive saplings to save old genetic stock.
This year, oil from their priola trees, a variety they discovered and named, won gold at the 12th Australian Golden Olive Awards.
The awards, announced last month in Rutherglen, drew more than 70 entries from around the nation.
Three of the four gold medal winning oils were processed at the couple's grove, EV Olives at Markwood, east of Wangaratta.
Eberhard and Maureen's interest in heritage olives stems from research work done in the 1990s by South Australian Dr Michael Burr.
“Michael was looking for old trees in the area with good production and disease resistance,” Ms Titcumb said.
The couple had noticed trees more than 100 years old growing around historic homesteads at Everton, Rutherglen, Whorouly and Wangaratta.
They selected parent material with good oil production and suited to the northeast climate.
“We had the trees DNA tested to verify the variety, but it kept coming back as don't know,” Mr Kunze said. “There are 7000-8000 varieties of olive around the world and these did not match up.”
Mr Kunze said the trees and their fruit looked quite different from mainstream varieties. The couple narrowed 26 heritage varieties down to six to suit the region's rainfall zone.
Priola has proven to be a consistent producer, able to handle the wet conditions of last summer.
EV Olives is one of three major processors in the northeast, pressing more than 500 tonnes from 45 growers this year.
China is proving an emerging market for EV Olives with exports of bottled extra virgin olive oil ramping up from one pallet to three shipping containers last year.
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