George and Sheri Braun of The Olive Farm on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia have successfully produced the very first 100 percent Canadian extra virgin olive oil from their 2016 harvest. The journey has not been an easy one.
It’s tough being a Canadian olive grower sometimes.
Between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland, Salt Spring Island — the largest of the Southern Gulf Islands — houses a unique microclimate in its fertile Fulford Valley. With the area’s warm summers and mild winters, it could be described as a mild Mediterranean climate. However, that may be a stretch, George admits.
Here in this valley, after four and a half years of searching, George and Sheri decided to settle down and pursue their dream of owning an olive farm. With 73 acres, about 2,500 producing olive trees and their own olive mill, the dream has now become a reality.
Nothing came easy for this pioneering couple. “Everyone we talked to either hung up the phone or laughed and said, ‘You can’t do it there!’” George admitted. He had a difficult time finding someone who would even answer his emails about purchasing olive trees and bringing them to Canada.
He managed to buy several Tuscan varieties from California and shipped them to Canada with bare roots in order for them to be allowed across the border. This traumatic experience for the seedlings ensured that their transition to the Great White North would not be a smooth one.
In 2012, the Brauns planted 1,000 olive trees in the fields, and then they waited. Of course, in the meantime they occupied themselves by planting and harvesting other things, including blueberries, grapes, kale, wheat, garlic and the list goes on.
Finally, on December 3rd and 4th 2016, the olives of Canada’s first olive oil were hand harvested. They were pressed just five hours later in The Olive Farm’s very new olive mill. It had just arrived from Italy and was being set up as the olives were being harvested.
The timing was just about perfect. The next day, the winter weather moved in with snow and ice that would have destroyed the crop that year had it come two days earlier. As it was, the last five rows of olive trees were never harvested.
Nevertheless, years of patience and hard work paid off: George and Sheri managed to do two pressings of olive oil, including a Maurino single varietal, and the results were thrilling. “We were pretty excited, we thought it was really good but we needed a more objective view, so we’ve had a couple of great responses now,” Sheri said, adding that it has been extremely well received by several people who know olive oil.
The first Canadian extra virgin olive oil exhibits pronounced notes of cocoa and coffee which some tasters would find pleasant, but they can also arise from frost-bitten olives or characterize the “grubby” defect (which is caused by the presence of olive fly larvae in the crushed fruit), or a combination of factors, according to an expert who tasted the Braun’s oil at Olive Oil Times’ request.
It definitely won’t be the last from The Olive Farm, Sheri said. “Now that we’ve got this wonderful oil, we’re going full steam ahead!”
Like the beginning of their journey, the future might not be easy. This winter has been the harshest in 40 years on Salt Spring Island, which has caused many of the Braun’s young trees to die.
They believe, however, that if the majority can come through, their tough little trees will survive anything the Canadian winter throws at them. Like George says, “It’s tough being a Canadian olive grower sometimes.”