By Penelope Barker | Reporting from Sydney
An historic olive grove tended by Benedictine monks for over 150 years and an olive grove less than a decade old have produced Australia’s most awarded extra virgin olive oils for 2010.
The monks of the Benedictine Community of New Norcia, Australia’s only mission town, have been growing olives and producing quality olive oil for over 150 years. Due to their vow of humility, however, the monks have eschewed entering awards and having the quality of their olive oil recognised – until this year. New Norcia olive oils received Best West Australian Oil of Show and Best Oil of Show at the Perth Royal Show Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition in August, receiving an overall score of 19 out 20, followed by Best Oil from Heritage Trees and a Bronze Medal at the Golden Olive Awards held by the Victorian Olive Council in north-east Victoria in September.
New Norcia was settled by Spanish Benedictine monks in the 1840s who built grand Spanish colonial buildings and planted olive groves in the harsh West Australian bush. In January this year, New Norcia’s last Spanish monk and longest living monk, Dom Paulino, passed away at the age of 99 and the Community decided it would be permissible to enter several olive oil awards in his honour.
“Dom Paulino tended the olive grove at New Norcia all his life,” says Carmel Ross, chief executive officer of the Benedictine Community of New Norcia. “He was the master of the olive grove and passed his knowledge on to our Head of Grounds, Gordon Smyth. In the last two years of his life, Dom Paulino was in a nursing home in Perth, but always asked visitors about the olive grove and how the trees were being tended. So it’s wonderful that in the year of his death we have won these awards as a recognition of the heritage of the Spanish monks and their contribution to the olive oil industry in Australia. Many other growers who entered the competitions listed ‘WA Mission’ among their olive varieties, which means they originated from the New Norcia grove, either as cuttings or seeds.
“Another thing that pleases us is that the awards are a pat on the back for the large numbers of volunteers who come to help with the harvest and pruning the trees each year. Every part of the process of producing New Norcia olive oil is hand done or using the original machinery and is very labour intensive. We wouldn’t have the result we have without the volunteers as we simply couldn’t afford the labour.”
Judges at the Perth Royal Show described the winning oil as having an aroma of grapes, tropical fruit salad, nectar and passionfruit, with “good strong flavours of
guava and tropical fruits and firm bitterness and pungency with a clean finish.”
There were 161 entries overall across five categories, mostly based on the size of the producer’s olive grove. New Norcia entered into category two, for groves that produce 200-4999 litres annually, with 86 other entries.
“New Norcia’s olive grove is 150 to 160 years old and olive oil is an important part of New Norcia’s history,” says Head of Grounds, Gordon Smyth. “More than 600 trees are harvested annually and some of the original machinery is still used to sort and process the olives. It’s a big job but we love what we do and hope to carry on this legacy well into the future.”
If you wish to sample New Norcia’s prize-winning olive oil, you will have to travel to Western Australia. The oil is only available from the Museum and Art Gallery Gift Shop in New Norcia, where you can also purchase the Benedictine Community’s wood-fired bread, beer and nut cake.
Gooramada Takes AOA National
In contrast to New Norcia’s long and fascinating history of olive oil production, the winners of Best Oil of Show at the Australian Olive Association’s 14th National Extra Virgin Olive Oil Awards – Gooramadda Olives – are mere babes in the woods.
Jos and Kathy Weemaes planted their grove of close to 900 olive trees in 1998 and went into full-time production in 2001. Over the short nine years since then, Gooramadda Olives has garnered a string of awards, including winning Best Oil in Show eight times at the Golden Olive Awards and gaining a Gold Medal at this year’s awards, winning Best Oil in Show in the National Olive Oil Awards previously in 2006 and taking home numerous gold and silver medals over the past five years.
“Winning this highly regarded National Award twice gives us, and our customers, the confirmation that we produce a consistent, quality product,” says Jos Weemaes. “We also greatly appreciate the very professional manner in which the
judging is carried out. Judges’ comments and feedback give us an insight into how we can continuously improve and fine-tune our processes. It is like sitting a yearly exam and passing!”
Jos and Kathy Weemaes left their jobs as an engineer and draftsperson respectively in search of greater work and lifestyle balance and planted their grove on 20 acres at Gooramadda in North East Victoria. All processing is done on the property using only their own olives, which come in a broad range of varieties including kalamata, king kalamata, California queens, manzanillo and Hardy’s mammoth.
The couple hold regular factory tours and olive oil tastings at Gooramadda and also retail table olives, their own tapenade and hand made olive oil soaps and skin creams from their cellar door.
Thirteen gold medals were awarded from over 200 entries at the National Olive Oil Awards Show,
which were scrutinised in an intense two-day judging process by 26 olive oil experts.
Chief Judge of the 14th National Olive Oil Awards Show, Richard Gawel complimented the growers on the overall high standard of entries. “This was probably the most difficult growing season that I can recall,” he said in his speech announcing the winners at the Awards dinner in Adelaide on October 15. “Scorching heat followed by rain just prior to harvest made it difficult for many growers to harvest when they would have liked. Given these difficulties, the best oils showed an outstanding level of olive fruit and freshness. Just lovely dynamic oils.”
Other major winners were Macaw Creek Olive Oil, Coralee Olives, Forth Valley Olive Grove, Cobram Estate, Melilanda Olives and Preston Valley Grove.