I’m Back! In case you don’t happen to follow my twitter feed; I was presented with the amazing opportunity to travel to Adelaide Australia and observe/work with a few millers and olive oil producing families. A trip like this was priceless and even though we have consistently produced highly decorated award winning oils at Calivirgin, any chance to learn more and pick the brains of many different people in this industry was invaluable.
Where to begin is tough since this was such an amazing trip. I can start with how lucky I
was that my four and two year old children pretty much slept and kept quiet for both 20+ straight hours of travel there and back (did I mention that I took my wife and kids? Crazy huh?). That was a success in itself. Upon arrival a few things immediately came to mind. I guess I didn’t realize that Aussies drive on the left side of the road and I definitely didn’t know that the city of Adelaide had a population of over 1 million people. A very large city yet it seemed pretty small at the same time. A 15 min. drive can land you on the beach or in a different direction take you through hills of farming and livestock or into prized wine grape country. Different parts of South Australia reminded me of different parts of California but with subtleties that reminded you that you were in a whole different part of the world. My eyes and mind tried to take in everything. Little things I noticed such as how crops were farmed around large Eucalyptus trees much like we farm around oak trees in the Valley or the strange telephone poles made of concrete and I-beam iron (WIKI has a rundown of this Adelaide invention called a stobie pole). Another thing that is hard not to notice are the
birds. Magpies, Galahs, Rosellas, Macaws, and Lorikeets are just a few that you see and hear often. Perhaps I often don’t appreciate the birds we have in California but we don’t have many birds with the kind of wild colors or loud chatter that seem to take over South Australia.
After I got my bearings and forced myself to power through jet lag it was time to go to work. Before we headed out we (when I say “We” I mean my “Mate” Peter who kindly opened his home with his wife and near one year old to my family and I) stopped at a bakery for some bread (to sop up the oil later) and a few local food favorites. I got versed on meat pies, pasties and sausage rolls. The meat pie is like a hand held chicken pot pie, a pastie is like a
vegetable and meat filled croissant, and a sausage roll is like phyllo dough wrapped around ground sausage. Often served with Ketchup which they call tomato sauce. We picked up one of each to share for lunch later. We also got a carton of what I am craving as I write this: A Farmers Union Iced Coffee. I have to say the brand because I tried about three different brands while on my trip and Farmers Union is by far the best. It is basically like chocolate milk but with a touch of coffee in it instead of chocolate. Pretty good stuff! (a quick wikipedia search says that in 2003 Aussies consumed 22 Million liters of this brand just in case you didn’t believe me on how good it is)
The first mill I visited was near Lake Alexandrina. Beautiful countryside with a few rolling hills. The area I was at had quite a few yet small blocks of old established olives; mainly Koroneiki, Frantoio and Mission. The time of year I visited was when Koroneiki olives were at maturity so that is predominantly what I saw being milled while on my trip. This stop made me smile because the producer was having an extremely hard time processing due to the abundance of leaves, twigs and sticks that were coming in with the olives. There was more trash in these bins of olives than I had ever seen.
More than this processor had ever seen as well. What ends up happening is the leaves and sticks clog your washer and create problems with the flow of fruit through your machines. You end up spending a lot of time clearing the leaves and sticks and you could even get an unusual amount of leaves and sticks through your crusher which could affect taste of the oil or wear on the crusher. The reason I had to smile was because I have dealt with leaves before and the extra pain in the rear they can cause and this experience reminded me that even though I am visiting on the opposite side of the world in a country that drives on the opposite side of the street and eats their national animal (i’ll get to that later) …they still do the same exact job and have the same exact challenges I have back home.
The next family and mill I visited was in the McLaren Vale Region between the hills and the sea. A Father/Son run company where Peter jokes that the owner/miller is one of the pickiest and obsessive compulsive millers in South AU. I think Peter used different words to describe him but I can appreciate the quest for perfection. The experimenting with speeds of equipment, amount of water used (or lack there of), time of processing and temperatures leads to completely different oils. We were able to try a few different things and taste the results and it is amazing how slight changes can affect the taste of the oil so dramatically. This was also my first experience with a disc crusher. A disc crusher is much like a oversize herb grinder. Metal fingers interlock on two plates. One side stays
stationary while the other spins and the fruit and pits are sliced up as opposed to the hammer mill crusher we have which is much like a large cheese grater with a spinning metal hammer that forces the fruit through small holes. The largest difference between these Australian mills and ours back home is the amount of customers/growers and the quantity of fruit each grower brings in. The mill we have is much larger than the size of the 2.5 ton mills I saw in Australia (processing 2.5 tons per hour) but each grower would bring in anywhere between a half a ton of olives to perhaps three tons. They said every now and then someone would have 8-10 tons. So what you are left with is a new grower scheduled to deliver their fruit every half hour. They will go through over 15 growers a day. Many of these growers have been doing this for decades. Every year they bring in their fruit and go home with their 5-50 gallons of oil. I asked what they do with it. “They sell it to friends and neighbors or restaurants; they all have their short list of clients they sell oil to” was the response I got. There was a wide range of ages and types of people bringing olives in. At home I am used to mechanical harvesting where we start picking in the morning and within an hour I have ten tons stacked up. I will often pick and process 85-90 ton in a day and that isn’t a very long day. Since the majority of these growers hand pick their olives it takes a few days worth of picking before they deliver the fruit to the mill. A few mills even sold tiny plastic rakes to aide in the picking. I can’t imagine how hard of a job this must be. They also sell a motorized handheld rake but the rake costs close to $3000 and if you had 6-7 people all with one you could pick about 4 ton per day. Easy math means this doesn’t really pencil out but I guess you have to put a price on convenience and getting your fruit to the mill faster and since the faster you mill the fruit after it has been picked the better; any mechanism helps. Some fruit from larger blocks of trees is picked with a trunk shaker although it still didn’t pick as much or as fast as the oversized mechanical harvesters we use at home. The fruit is processed and at many mills it was the customers responsibility to fill their own containers when the oil came out. I thought this was unique because essentially they leave one part of my job as miller up to the customer.
I asked if the customers ever spilled the oil when filling their containers. He sighed and said yes, often little old lady’s will get to yapping and not pay attention. Then it backs up the whole process while they clean the spill. It was a long but very educational day followed by one more espresso before we left. I forgot to mention that there are many Europeans settled in Adelaide and good coffee isn’t hard to find. In fact Peter mentioned that the city is almost snobbish about their coffee. I would wake up to a stove top of excellent cappuccino, then on the way to visit a mill we would stop at a mom & pop type roadside business and grab another espresso. Upon arrival nearly every mill had a Saeco automatic espresso machine for customers while they waited for their fruit to be milled and another shot was almost forced upon you by the owners as almost a customary “hello, welcome to Australia”. Then one more before we left and sometimes if it was a long drive home I would have my fifth coffee of the day later in the evening. Mix in a few Farmers union iced coffees here and there and It was a wonder I ever slept. But Good Coffee? Yes. You won’t find a single Starbucks in Adelaide, a few of them opened and were closed years ago. They have a chain called Cibo that rivals anything Starbucks puts in your mouth plus there are small coffee houses all around the city. Needless to say I declared some award winning roasted coffee beans when I returned to the states.
The next few days were more of the same. One company had an Amenduni machine which is the company who makes our mill. It was slightly smaller than ours and set up to do many tiny batches to satisfy the many customers they had lined up. There must have been 30 people waiting around for their services. They mentioned scheduling a customer every 15 minutes. I can’t imagine dealing with that many personalities day in and day out for 3-4 months straight but I guess it is the norm and they don’t know any different. The rest of the week was more meeting wonderful families and talking with the millers about their techniques and experiences. I found that most of the olive oil operations were family owned and had many family members included in the business much like us at Calivirgin. One company reminded me much like our own. Father, son, son in law, and close friends working in the mill and the sister working phones like mad behind a desk. The mother trying to keep everyone happy. Almost our company to a “T”. This Mother/Wife mentioned that they love Ellen Degeneres there and the break room TV seemed to permanently be on the Ellen Show. When I think of all the great things that come from the U.S., Ellen probably wouldn’t have made a top ten list but if she makes the people of S. Australia happy I can live with that! I invited every family I met to visit in the U.S. and I hope some of them take me up on it.
A special thanks to all the families that let me stand in their shadows and ask them hundreds of questions all while they were trying to work. I know how easily it is to mess up milling if you talk too much since the job is so repetitive and precise. The information I was able to gain regarding things like temperature, time, talc vs. no talc, solutions for waste product, and farming technique was priceless. It was very nice of them to let me interrupt their days and it is much appreciated. As producers we share the same challenges when it comes to market price and competing with adulterated or old rancid oils, we share the same love for making a healthy product and for making it the highest quality possible. I thought it was interesting how similar my family was to these people I just met when it came to goals, values, and a passion for the business and industry.
I finally took a couple days off from work and traveled with my family to see some sights of Australia other than olive trees and farming. Cleland wildlife park, the beach, the worlds
largest rocking horse, and some wine tasting in the famed Barossa Valley. I was not much of a Shiraz fan until I tasted the great bottles produced in this region. We visited the whispering wall at the Barossa reservoir which is a water dam that is in a concave design. Due to the acoustic design you can talk to someone from opposite sides of the wall and hear them perfectly even though you are over 470 feet apart. My son and daughter Gino and Giada had fun with this marvel.
One of the highlights may have been the Roos! You can’t go to Australia and not see a Kangaroo. Well you can actually. Around the city they are about as common as seeing deer in the states. After scouring the countryside on every drive we took I finally located a troop of about 20 wild kangaroos basking in the sun. The wildlife park is a treat though. I think I had just as much fun as the kids did feeding and petting them. The larger ones were red kangaroos and the smaller ones were the wallaby’s. If I held the food up high and made the red kangaroos stand tall I realized they were just as
big as I was. I didn’t expect their fur to be so soft and you can feel that they are almost pure lean muscle when you pet them … which brings me to their meat. On the last night before leaving Peter mentioned to me that you can eat them. After the horrific look had passed from my wife Julie’s face and being the meat eater I am, I was all in. We picked up some “roo” from the butchers and to my surprise it tasted just like a very lean cut of beef. In fact I probably would have thought it was filet from a cow if you hadn’t told me. My wife did try some against her will and she agreed that it was like steak even though she couldn’t get the cute cuddly marsupial out of her mind.
So with that we packed up my coffee, some wine, some oil and a jar of Vegemite and the family and I headed off to New Zealand to sight see for a few days before the long 14 hr flight home. Best thing about Auckland New Zealand was the most amazing zoo I may ever see in my life…but that is a whole other story.
and last, a few words that I learned while on our trip:
Chook=Chicken as in i’ll order the half Chook at dinner.
Fringe=Bangs My Daughters fringe started to get pretty long during our trip.
Gift Hamper=Gift Basket Pretty self explanatory
Nappies=Diapers With a two year old we struggled finding a correct size of nappies.
Dummy=Pacifier Again, with the little one, the Dummy was a savior on the long flight.
Strip Cheese=String Cheese
Jumper=Sweater Hey Mate! That’s a fine looking jumper you are wearing.
Prom=Stroller After a long day we would load the kids up in the prom.
Postman & Post=Mail Peter argued with me that we put postage on a letter and deliver it at the post office yet we call it Mail. Why not put postage on post.
EFTPOS=Credit card or debit Signs would always say EFTPOS accepted here or not accepted. Stands for electronic funds transfer at point of sale.
Thank you to the families and companies that welcomed me. Special thanks to Peter, Allysa and little Easton for letting us wreck their house for two weeks. Here are the companies I visited that have websites:
Fleurieu Peninsula Olive Press
Australian Olive Company
Wow, Michael. Sounds like a wonderful adventure. I will be curious to stay tuned and hear if anything you learned has changed your processes here. Thanks for sharing. Jeanne
I am a Shiraz fan. And I believe it is the capital of Saudi Arabia. A wee bit of Shiraz and some mushrooms made the best brown gravy I ever had – in California this year.