02 Jun

Northland olive oil makers have pipped the world’s elite at a respected US show.

By Brigid Lynch

Mangawhai’s Te Arai Olive Estate won best in show and a fistful of gold at the 7th annual extra virgin olive oil competition at California’s Los Angeles County Fair.

Raylee Campbell, who runs Te Arai with architect husband Colin, said winning four gold medals was stunning – “It’s beyond our wildest dreams.”

There are no cash prizes – “just some nice certificates, and some stickers to go on our bottles” _ but Mrs Campbell says the kudos and credibility make it all worthwhile.

All four Te Arai oils entered won gold, while two scooped best in their class, and one went on to win best in show.

Not bad for a six-year-old grove that went commercial only three years ago and was facing competition from famed oil-producing nations such as Italy, Spain and France.New Zealand had 12 oils among the 386 from 19 countries entered in the international section, and all 12 were winners – 11 golds and a silver.

“For New Zealand to do that well is pretty impressive,” said Mrs Campbell, who has already fielded post-fair orders from the US.

New Zealand’s olive oil industry is relatively new, she says, and is still learning from other countries’ mistakes while making the most of our climate and relatively young soil.

With small presses popping up all over Northland, many growers are aiming to make the best oil they possibly can, she says.

At Te Arai, they pick their fruit early, resulting in less oil but more intense flavours. With 1800 trees on 9.3 hectares, harvest yields vary: 1500 litres was the last haul.

Because harvest is in April, and entries had to be in in March, the oil they sent was already 11 months old. Not ideal, said Mrs Campbell – “oil’s at its best when it’s fresh”.

The Campbells sell at the grove, via their website www.tearaiolives.co.nz and through restaurants and delicatessens in Auckland and around Mangawhai.

“Basically we’re just sticking to the chefs that are dedicated to local produce _ the real foodie types.”

So is it set to be another New Zealand success story, a la Marlborough’s sauvignon blanc wine?

“We’re hoping so, but there’s just a lot of work to be done to get it out there,” said Mrs Campbell.

“It’s still quite a new product. People don’t know what to do with it.

“It’s not a cooking oil, it’s a condiment oil. It’s a flavouring.”

She recommends using the oil “raw”, to drizzle, dip, dress, and finish food, as heating it burns off the goodness and flavour – and is keen to see quality standards enforced: “You don’t want to spend a lot of money and find you’ve got an old, flat, rancid bottle of oil.”

TE ARAI’S TALLY:

•: Best in show (international extra virgin olive oil – medium intensity): Te Arai Frantoio

•: Best in class (New Zealand monocultivar & classic blends): Frantoio and Mangawhai Gold

•: Gold medals: Frantoio and Koroneiki (single varieties), and Motutira and Mangawhai Gold (blended oils).

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