Tough gig I know: a work trip to Southern Spain. Well yes, it was an incredible trip – however there is very legitimate and sobering reason behind it. The current situation in Australia has brought into sharp focus the shortage of farm labour and the resulting challenge to continue to produce great olives and oils at a competitive price.
I joined one of our key olive partners, Victorian farmer John Symington in Andalucía, Spain to research techniques, equipment and varieties for the mechanical harvesting of table olives. Firstly, some very humbling statistics: last season (2021/22) Spain harvested 645,000 tonnes of table olives –this is more than 2.5 times the combined total of Italy, Greece and Portugal. The main table varieties are Manzanilla, Hojiblanca and Gordal, and the bulk of the crop is grown between Seville and Cordoba.
Seville & Cordoba
As well as being the centre of the world's table olive production (with all of the associated equipment manufacturers), Seville and Cordoba also share some of the most incredible Moorish architecture, the best of which is the Alcazar in Seville and the Mezquita in Cordoba. Also moreish is the food and the best thing for a summer's day (it was above 30°C every day we were there) is Gazpacho or it's thicker Cordoban cousin, Salmorejo. Both are cold tomato soups with liberal (15% or more) amounts of extra virgin olive oil. Thankfully Frank Camorra (MoVida) has shared his recipe here.
2022 Andalusian Olive Harvest
John and I arrived for the first week of the table olive harvest and we had the privilege of spending three days visiting growers and processors thanks to our generous hosts, Multiscan, Rafael Pleite and Agromillora. In spite of the devastating drought in Spain and Europe and the forecast of a 50% resulting loss in production in 2022, the scale of olives coming into the processing facilities was incredible. Literal rivers of green Manzanilla, Hojiblanca and Gordal olives!
'Spanish Style' denotes the typical olive curing method in Spain of using lye as an initial treatment for green olives, before then rinsing and placing the olives in acidified brine for fermentation. While this process was interesting to view and learn more about, at Mount Zero we focus on natural fermentation rather than lye treatment. There were however many insights to be had and many that we will try to emulate here.
- Hojiblanca olives are more robust than Manzanilla and lend themselves better to machine harvesting.
- Harvesting directly into brine (preferably chilled) to minimise bruising and slow down the enzyme activity (causing bruising) as quickly as possible.
- Minimising the handling, pumping and moving of olives as much as possible from the point of receival to the final fermented product. The best example of this was an incredible fermentation facility that was built into the side of a hill, where the olives are literally flowing down the hill from receival, to fermentation, grading and dispatch.
- Every facility we saw was using optical scanning to separate olives by colour and defect. While this is an incredibly expensive piece of equipment, in the future it could allow us to divert undesirable fruit straight to the oil mill, thus saving any wastage and ensuring premium quality table fruit.
- Plus many more ideas that we will trial over the coming season!
Hopefully in 12 months time, we will be able to share with you a summary of our results – and also a taste.
Thanks for reading,