` An Olive Harvest Festival in New Zealand

Australia / NZ

An Olive Harvest Festival in New Zealand

Jul. 11, 2013
By Ray Lilley

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Billed as A Gas­tro­nomic Affair,” New Zealand’s first olive-themed har­vest fes­ti­val has lived up to expec­ta­tions if all the feed­back from fes­ti­val-goers is a guide.

Har­vest time in New Zealand is early win­ter and here in south­ern North Island the annual strug­gle is to ripen and pick as much fruit as pos­si­ble before the inevitable frosts end the weather game.

A small group of olive grow­ers in this rural area, renowned for its wines (head­lined by inter­na­tion­ally-rec­og­nized Pinot Noirs) and local food pro­duce like cheeses and orchard fruits, decided to show­case their local oil pro­duc­tion.

Rather than hold an olive fair” to just sell oils, they devel­oped a range of har­vest-related activ­i­ties, from grove vis­its and hand-pick­ing for pick­ling and press­ing to olive-themed gourmet lunches, a night mar­ket and a range of work­shops on oils and other olive prod­ucts.

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Two other regions of the coun­try (Wai­heke near Auck­land and neigh­bor­ing Hawke’s Bay) hold annual olive fairs, but the unique Mar­t­in­bor­ough event was delib­er­ately planned to ensure fee-pay­ing guests were involved in a tree-to-table expe­ri­ence.

At par­tic­i­pat­ing groves, grow­ers set aside fruit-laden trees, put out har­vest nets, pro­vided pick­ing crates and watched vis­i­tors dive head-long into their first-ever hands-on olive har­vest activ­ity.

Most emerged from the branches wield­ing 2 – 5 kg of olives, took up a pick­ling recipe and headed for the grove’s recep­tion area where fresh-pressed new sea­son extra vir­gin olives oil was set out for tast­ing, together with home-pick­led olives, savories and local wines.

Indi­vid­ual groves had up to 45 vis­i­tors dur­ing a few hours set aside for on-farm activ­i­ties over the fes­ti­val week­end and were blessed by calm, fine, sunny weather.

Grove own­ers fielded scores of ques­tions about the indus­try — from plant­ing and prun­ing, irri­gat­ing and har­vest­ing, press­ing oils and pick­ling, health ben­e­fits of oils, sell­ing against imported oils, even organic pro­duc­tion. All expressed delight at the inter­est shown in hands-on” par­tic­i­pa­tion.

The night mar­ket in the town square attracted hun­dreds to its mar­quee tents and fairy lights, with every­thing from mulled wine and olive breads to Span­ish paella, Indian cur­ries and cold-fight­ing frost pots used to ward off win­ter chills. Up to 50 stalls sold every­thing from craft clothes to jew­elry.

Grow­ers are already deter­mined to expand this unique first olive har­vest fes­ti­val into a big­ger event come mid-2014.

The wider Wairarapa region (of which Mar­t­in­bor­ough is part) has the biggest con­cen­tra­tion of olive groves of any region in the coun­try, with more than 60 grow­ers pro­duc­ing from mainly Tus­can vari­eties.

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