Calivirgin Down Under…Adelaide Countryside, Olive Oil & Kangaroos

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

Giada & Gino Pre 14 hr Flight

Giada & Gino Pre 14 hr Flight

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

Magpie,Macaw,Lorikeet,Malah

Magpie, Macaw, Rosella, Galah

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

Meat pie, Pastie, Iced Coffee

Meat pie, Pastie, Iced Coffee

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.

Lake Alexandrina, Olive Groves, Leaf problem in olives

Lake Alexandrina, Olive Groves, Leaf problem in olives

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

Disc Crusher on left, Hammer Mill Crusher on right

Disc Crusher on left, Hammer Mill Crusher on right

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.

Awesome Olive Oil Families, Rakes for Picking Olives, Where Customers Fill Their Containers

Awesome Olive Oil Families, Rakes for Picking Olives, Where Customers Fill Their Containers

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

Whispering Wall, Jacobs Creek Borossa Valley, Worlds Largest Rocking Horse

Whispering Wall, Jacobs Creek Borossa Valley, Worlds Largest Rocking Horse

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

The Fam with Roo's and Koalas, and the S. Australia Beaches

The Fam with Roo’s and Koalas, and the S. Australia Beaches

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.
Rubbish=Garbage
Trolley=Shopping Cart
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:
Bovalina
Fleurieu Peninsula Olive Press
Australian Olive Company
Olives 2000

Ciao, Mike

Giving a Roo a hug, but soon after he shoulder shrugged me off and insisted on the rest of the food I held.  Not a friendly shrug either.

Giving a Roo a hug, but soon after he shoulder shrugged me off and insisted on the rest of the food I held. Not a friendly shrug either.

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A candid interview about our olive oil with my 4 year old daughter Giada

Giada and Mike Coldani

Giada and Mike Coldani

I recently sat down with my 4 year old daughter Giada Coldani to discuss the olive oil business and why she likes olive oil. Forced to be immersed into the world of olive oil, both of my children have become fans at a very young age. Both of them have been dipping bread into this gold goodness since before they were a year old and it has gotten to the point where Giada will ask for oil if she doesn’t see it present at dinner (embarrassingly enough; even at other peoples’ houses) The interview with my son Gino will have to be postponed since he is just over one year of age and his vocabulary consists of about ten words.

Mike:    What is your favorite food to enjoy Calivirgin olive oil on?
Giada:    Ummm?  Bread!

Avocado with EVOO and Vinegar is one of her favorites

Avocado with EVOO and Vinegar is one of her favorites

Mike:    What is your favorite food to enjoy our Calivinegar balsamic vinegar on?
Giada:    On sliced avocados!

Mike:    What did you teach your friend Dylan when you went to the olive mill?
Giada:    I taught him how to eat the oil and to play with Vito.

Mike:    Which of our Calivirgin flavored olive oils is your favorite? We have Basil, Lemon, Rosemary, Jalapeno, Garlic, Buddha’s Hand Citron, and Jalapeno-Garlic.
Giada:    I like the Rosemary!
Mike:    I’m pretty sure you haven’t had the rosemary. Why do you like that one?
Giada:    I’m not sure.

Giada Coldani and Dylan Kerns tasting some fresh milled EVOO

Giada Coldani and Dylan Kerns tasting some fresh milled EVOO

Mike:    What is your favorite part about the olive mill where daddy works?
Giada:    The praying mantises in the box where you dump the olives.
(The olives get dumped into a hopper and then conveyed into a washing system. There
are often many praying mantises picked up by the harvester that use this opportunity to get to safety. Giada has a blast collecting them and letting them crawl on her arms before setting them back into a tree)

Mike:    If you worked for Calivirgin what job would you want to have?
Giada:    I want to make the olive oil like you!
(As far as punctuation; it isn’t so much as an overuse of the exclamation point as it is Giada yelling her answers at me like she is on a television game show)

Vito is the ranch dog who is somewhat camera shy and not thrilled to have his photo taken

Vito is the ranch dog who is somewhat camera shy and not thrilled to have his photo taken

Mike:    What are Polyphenols?
Giada:    What do you think it is?
Mike:    I’m asking you what you think.
Giada:    But where did you hear about it?
Mike:    Someone once told me but I forget, what do you think it is?
Giada:    But where did you learn about polyphenols?
Mike:    You know I’m supposed to be the one asking the questions.
Giada:    Daddy, maybe when I’m older I’ll know what polyphenols mean.

Mike:    Why is our Calivirgin olive oil Extra Virgin?
Giada:    I don’t know.

Mike:    Ok, you are getting tired, how about this; who is your favorite princess and why?
Giada:    I like Cinderella, Ariel and Snow White.
Mike:    Why do you like those ones?
Giada:    I like Cinderella because she’s pretty and I like her dancing. I like Ariel because she is magical under water and she marries Prince Eric, and I like Snow White because she has a lot of tiaras.

Don't let the highlighter outfit fool you, she is a farm girl at heart and loves insects and reptiles

Don’t let the highlighter outfit fool you, she is a farm girl at heart and loves insects, animals & reptiles

Mike:    Would you rather work for Calivirgin when you grow up or be a Princess?
Giada:    I want to be a princess!
Mike:    I knew you were going to say that.
Giada:    Then why did you ask me?

Mike:    Ok, your interview is over.
Giada:    Now can I have a treat?
Mike:    Ha Ha!  Ok, I did promise didn’t I !

A Presto!

8 Random Friday Facts

It’s Friday!  Enjoy some tidbits of the everyday things going on in our lives here at Coldani Olive Ranch.

I planted a six inch seedling the day my wife Julie and I got married ~ 9/16/2006 ~  Quite frankly; as an olive tree farmer the tree looks a little pathetic because it has been restricted in this pot but we also received the beautiful pot as a wedding gift and I wanted to be able to take the tree with us if we moved so don’t pass judgment on my farming skills from the looks of it!  I like to think it’s an antonym for our marriage.

June 8th 2012 will be our first ever pick up party for our olive oil Club Members.  We will be holding it at Abundance winery in Lodi.  More notice will go out but it should be a great time with oil tastings/pairings, a band and a complimentary glass of wine.  If you are a club member and in the area swing by and grab your shipment and enjoy the evening with us.

Get your Allegra or Zyrtec ready.  Working in these groves while the trees are in bloom is messy work and will cause a fit on your allergies even with a dust mask.  Olive pollen is very fine and can even travel miles away in gusty winds.

Look for our new sign on the side of a semi truck.  Currently parked on our oldest block of trees off Interstate 5 and HWY 12.  This is the second one; the first truck had been stolen in the night after it sat for about three days.  WHO steals an entire semi truck trailer!?  Who would have thought that I would have to pull off decent tires from this trailer and install bald ones trying everything to keep this one from being tempting?

This is a mission olive tree I planted for aesthetics in my front yard.  Nearly every day there is a cat using it as a scratching post and I have seen at least three or four different cats on this tree.  I’d like to think that someday when this tree gets to be 100 years old there will be an interesting visual story around the base of it.

They’re here!  Calivirgin needed more hands so my sister Gina and her husband Scott moved from the always sunny and mild weather of San Diego back to Lodi to work with the company full time.  At least it wasn’t like they were moving to Alaska.   I think last I checked we have been picked up by 33 different retail stores since January first of this year so cracking the whip seems to be working.

There are many different uses for olive oil.  I could make an entire blog post on them alone and I just may do that but one that we have been receiving many comments on is the use of our lemon olive oil as a makeup remover.  It works! Plus it leaves your skin moisturized with a light fragrant smell of lemons.  Try it sometime!

I saved my favorite photo for last.  At first I thought a twenty pound gopher or ground squirrel had finally done us in.  Our irrigation nemesis jumped out of this hole.  A mother coyote and eleven, YES ELEVEN!  pups scattered in all directions from this den which was dug right in the middle of one of our rows of trees and about in the middle of the entire grove.  Coyotes are a real problem, they chew on our drip irrigation nightly to the point that we will not fix the drip lines until the night before we water otherwise we will just have to fix it twice.  They like the drip lines as a source of water but there is also evidence that the just chew on them as a chew toy.  Coyotes easily cost us in the thousands every year in repair parts & labor.

Happy Friday, Mike Coldani