Wow, what a day. If you follow me over on Instagram and Facebook, you would know that yesterday I was privileged enough to be flown in a private plane with 8 other Brisbane health professionals, to the Cobram Estate olive oil farm in Cobram, Victoria.
First. Let me tell you about the plane. It was tiny. Plush… but tiny. The pilot, Neil, who I will be grateful to forever for getting us down and back safely, informed us that the each of the (8) seats was worth almost $50,000. So, I’d like to call it a mini version of Air Force One. But real, real mini. And to make matters slightly more terrifying, as we did our last toilet stop before boarding on the private airstrip at Archerfield, the weather report said…. ‘severe warnings for Victoria. Strong, gustily winds forecasted.’
Gulp. Ok. So, I did hold the hand of a stranger as we descended. And I did count forwards and backwards from 10 as we sunk through the very bumpy clouds on the way down. But 3 and a half hours later… with both feet shakily on the red dirt runway, the adventure began.
I love paddock to plate experiences. I love knowing where my food has come from. You tell me it’s made with care, love, the best quality ingredients, integrity, passion… that is something money cannot buy. And I will support it. And once you read this, you like me, will never buy another brand of olive oil outside of the Cobram Estate label, ever again.
So let me tell you a little about what we learnt. Our day was mostly led by the incredibly kind hearted, friendly and passionate man behind the brand, Rob McGavin. It turns out that Rob and his uni mate Paul planted the first olive tree around 20 years ago on what is now Cobram Estate, with the view to give olive oil making a crack. So… it started with 2 guys and a tree. And they’ve certainly made history since then.
Here are some of the astounding things we learnt about Cobram Estate the brand:
- The company has about 2.5 million olive trees and what they do to one they do to all of them. All of their trees receive the same love, attention, care and consideration
- The estate at Cobram stretches for about 21km one way… hello, what a great venue for a marathon (#justsaying…. #planting the seed). There is a second estate near Bort, also Victoria.
- They grow about 35 varieties of olive trees and each tree produces about 45kg of fruit per year of which approximately 20% becomes olive oil.
- The absolute maximum time between picking and pressing is 4 hours. And we witnessed the procedures that guarantee this. No stale, rancid olive oil in a Cobram Estate product. Only the freshest and highest in antioxidants, that I can say with conviction.
- An olive used for olive oil never touches the ground…. It is picked fresh from the tree and then transported to the plant. I’ll put some videos and photos in my stories over coming weeks featuring some of the amazing technology that enables this.
As far as their corporate social responsibility….
- Cobram Estate are leaders in research. They have produced 17 peer reviewed research studies about olives and olive oil. This is an incredible contribution to the scientific community.
- About 40% of the land they own is essentially left in its natural state, it’s not even ploughed.
- Cobram Estate have dedicated a great deal of thought and research into reducing the waste products from their manufacturing efforts. These efforts include using as much from the tree as possible. They are now producing an incredibly high quality olive leaf tea and olive leaf extract; you may find this in your supermarket under the label ‘Wellgrove.’ It took 5 years to develop and they have a TGA approved laboratory. They also recycle some of the ‘seed’ from the olives to power their boilers. They are stockpiling the rest of the seed waste, for future use and thinking of innovative ways this could be recycled. We saw piles of seed on our travels around the estate, awaiting its final destiny.
- They remove the squalene from some of their reject olives which is highly beneficial for skin, This is sold back to cosmetic companies. The only 2 places squalene is found in commercial doses is in olives and in shark’s livers… so by doing this, the lives of more sharks are spared.
The manufacturing process was incredible to witness….
- Olives are picked and then received for pressing within 4 hours.
- They are washed first… they look beautiful in action when this happens (see my stories archive over coming weeks).
- Then the entire olive, seed and all undergoes some brutal bashing with a mallet and its turned into this kind of tapenade. It smells incredible. It would be nice to dip a cracker in this. This process goes on for about 30 minutes.
- It then undergoes centrifugal force to separate the oil from the rest of the fruit. We got to taste it basically straight after this process!
- There is no filtering process once its separated because further processing would only destroy more of the health benefits. Instead, the oil is left to settle for about 3 weeks and some of the cloudy bits (for want of a better term) are drained away and what is left is bottled. How pure!
A few fascinating facts about olives you may not have known….
- They are all green to begin with. The black ones have just been picked later and they are riper.
- Generally, the more robust the olive oil is in flavour, the more antioxidants it has.
- Olive oil is completely safe, even beneficial to heat and use in cooking. See the Olive Wellness Institute for the latest research around this.
- Olives have amazing survival tactics…. The olive tree can suck lots of moisture from its fruit if necessary. Then, once water is no longer scarce, the fruit can regain its hydration really quickly. I found this irrigation system quite fascinating.
- You should endeavour to use your olive oil within 4 to 6 weeks of opening so that the antioxidant content has not declined greatly.
The best thing about the day…
- The food… of course. The food was kind of amazing. We enjoyed this incredible lunch thanks to Chef Kevin O’Connor who prepared us homemade Chapa bread with spelt flour for dipping with the First Harvest Olive oil, a beautiful side dish of beetroot and caviar, plus carrots and pesto and finally an amazing medley of mushrooms and slow cooked meats on a bed of ancient grains along with a turmeric slow baked eggplant. Much of the food was baked slowly over this incredible outside stove and olive oil alongside fresh herbs made the dishes sing. We finished off with dark chocolate and olive oil bark and olive oil carrot cake. It was served with local wines. It was amazing. Please close your mouth I see you drooling.
Something I’ve really come to realise in the last year or so is that ‘big’ and ‘successful’ doesn’t mean that the value system is watered down. I used to be quite adamant on supporting small, local businesses and yes I certainly am still this way inclined. But experiences like this remind us that just because a company is really successful, doesn’t mean that they have necessary lost sight of their value system. I can relate to this myself. I’ve built my business to a level I didn’t think possible and shortly I’ll have 2 staff working alongside me. And who knows where it could from there. But have my values been watered down? No. If anything, they are stronger than ever because I need those values to ripple further and further. Likewise, Cobram Estate’s values are as visible and obvious as ever. And their business is massive! I honestly cannot see myself supporting another olive oil brand ever, now that I know the integrity behind each and every bottle they produce. It’s also really important to remember that you and I as consumers do have a lot of power and influence when it comes to how we spend our money. Sure, individually it may not seem much. But collectively we can make a real difference. Put your money where your mouth is and spend your dollars supporting businesses that have values that align with yours. Each time you go to the supermarket or even a café, is an opportunity to demand transparency, quality and the best ingredients in your food. Know where your food comes from. This is a topic we spend so much time talking about over on the podcast too.
Anyhow. I am writing this on the flight home, whilst the knowledge and experience is still fresh. This leg of the journey is much less terrifying thanks to a red or two over lunch…. And it’s time for a nap!
Thanks to Rob, Abby, Chef, Tris, Jacqui and the team for such a memorable experience.
Oh and a final comment… ‘lite’ olive oil…. well, when have I ever suggested you buy ‘lite’ anything? We don’t need to dwell on the negatives… but let’s just say you definitely do not want that stuff in your life!
*All attempts have been made to ensure any facts made in this article are indeed as correct as possible, but there may be minor errors in a few of the details as it gets difficult to take notes after one has enjoyed a long lunch and a couple of glasses of red wine. I’d safely say this blog is 98% accurate, but some names / figures may be ever so slightly wrong. Thank you for your understanding.