John and Lorraine Milla, Abilene Grove

High altitude, a cool climate and selected olive varieties are among the secrets to success for Abilene Grove Blend, rated this year’s best extra virgin olive oil in Australia.

Produced at 850m above sea level in rural New South Wales, the blend has a complex aroma of green apple and fresh oregano, according to the judges for the 16th Australian National Extra Virgin Olive Oil Show.

At an awards dinner in Adelaide last week, the blend took a gold medal and best in class in the single estate (min. 200 liters) class, and Cobram Estate, Australia’s biggest EVOO producer, took the top honors in the multi-estate (>5,000 liter) category.

More winners
Also best in their class were Mount Zero Olives’ Picual, Coratina, Manzanillo, with a silver medal in the multi estate 200-4,999 liters class; Oasis Olives’ Frantoio (gold), in the non-packaged min. 200 liters class; Golden Creek Olives’ Arbequina (gold), in the micro 50-199 litres, and Preston Valley Grove’s Chilli (silver) in the flavored oils min. 50 liters class.

Red Island won Grove of the Year, and Golden Creek Olives took home the Excellence Award for a producer with less than 200 liters. Coriole Kalamata Jumbo Olives won best in show in the table olives show.

Weather took a toll
Cobram Estate dubbed its win acknowledgment of it as “Australia’s #1 supermarket olive oil,” but co-founder Rob McGavin said an unseasonably wet summer in southern Australia had made it a challenge. “To receive this recognition by the industry is an outstanding achievement in what has been a very hard year to produce high quality and high intensity extra virgin olive oils,” he said.

Chief judge frank on FFA and peroxide values
In his report as chairman of the competition, Richard Gawel noted that the average free fatty acid level of exhibits this year, 0.23 percent, was up on previous years.

“Average peroxide values were 7.1, which while acceptable, an average between 5 and 6 is both desirable and achievable” he wrote.

One oil, Rich Glen Olives Signature, won a silver medal despite having an FFA of 0.8 percent, the highest level an olive oil can have and still be considered extra virgin. Another won a bronze with an FFA of 0.7, according to the official results.

Gawel noted “While there were more gold medals awarded this year as a proportion of total entries than in previous years, on average I thought that the average quality was only equivalent to previous years. This should not be seen as a major criticism as it is understood that the production of extra virgin olive oil is influenced by seasonal variation which also impacts on production.”

Australian industry turning a corner
The awards marked the end of the Australian Olive Association’s two-day National Olive Industry Conference and Trade Exhibition. AOA CEO Lisa Rowntree said the event was heralded as a turning point for the sector, which along with most other agricultural industries, has been “doing it hard over the last few years.”

australia-awards-best-extra-virgins-for-2012Peter McFarlane recognized
A Service to Industry Award was presented to Peter McFarlane for his contribution to both the Australian and South Australia olive associations.
“Peter has been a valuable contributor to the industry over many years, he’s advised the industry on important issues as well as taken an active role in hands on projects” Rowntree said.

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