20/06/2006 - 22:00

York celebrates the olive harvest

20/06/2006 - 22:00

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The historic town of York, an hour or so east of Perth, is at the heart of one of Western Australia’s premium olive-growing regions.

York celebrates the olive harvest

The historic town of York, an hour or so east of Perth, is at the heart of one of Western Australia’s premium olive-growing regions.

Blessed with a consistent Mediterranean-style climate and suitable soils, York and surrounding areas have been the location of choice for many commercial operations since olive growing began in the area about a decade ago.

The Australian olive trade is booming and York is considered among WA’s top growing regions. The industry is based on two key product groups – olive oil (virgin and extra virgin) and table olives (black and green).

Although Victoria is the largest olive growing state in Australia, said to have close to three million trees in the ground, WA is fast catching up. A new grower entered the market recently, with a 250,000 olive tree plantation outside Beverley.

And it is big business.

Old world olive producers Spain and Italy still dominate the market, but Australia has made significant advances in the exportation of premium olive products, led chiefly by olive oil.

In 1995, Australia exported 92,399 kilograms of olives to the world. In 2000 it was 315,954kg, And last year the total had risen to 1,651,679kg.

Australia’s top 10 export markets are the US, New Zealand, Italy, China, Singapore, Greece, UK, Fiji, Indonesia and Hong Kong.

The local olive harvest is coming to a close – the growing season extends from April to July – and right now the olive harvest is in full swing.

So to celebrate this growing industry and capitalise on another successful harvest, York will be hosting the third York Olive Festival on June 24 and 25 2006.

The festival has been held in York since 2004 and is the only event in WA dedicated to olives, extra virgin olive oil and other olive products.

In what is truly a celebration of the olive in all its stages, the festival encompasses tasting, cooking, growing and production information for all types of olive products.

Olive grower and chairperson for the York Olive Festival, Meryl Widenbar, says the event is an expression of the area and its unique product.

“The olive festival started in Gingin five years ago, but after a move to Ellenbrook a few years ago, it lost its feel and its character,” she says.

“Since coming to York, it has really become a major event for the town and is a significant event on the Australian olive calendar.”

The main event during the York Festival will be the Extra Virgin Olive Oil show. Entries are invited from around Australia and usually attract interest from the country’s best producers.

This year, Margi Kirkby, an internationally recognised and trained olive expert, will lead the judging panel to find the top drop.

The show will culminate in the presentation dinner on Friday June 23 at the Ragged Robin Restaurant in York.

The York competition is the first of the olive season in Australia, and has in recent years set a benchmark for other competitions held around the country.

Furthermore, olive oil is best when it is fresh, and the York festival exemplifies the freshest of new season olive oils. Akin to the festivals held in France for the new Beaujolais of the season, olives are best enjoyed as close to harvest as possible.

Visitors will be able to taste the oils and olives entered into the olive oil awards competition.

As well as this, a variety of stalls will showcase olive oil and olive products of WA, along with locally produced items, horticultural products and plants.

The olive pip spitting competition is on again, for those who are game; but competitors will need to be in good form to beat last year’s record of more than 18 metres.

Last year, the festival attracted more than 7,000 people and organisers are planning for a bigger year in 2006 as more and more people become exposed to premium olive products.

“Five years ago you could hardly find an Australian olive oil on a supermarket shelf,” Ms Widenbar told Gusto.

“People used to buy the regular old imports and think they were lashing out. Now the local food and wine culture has shifted and people are much more informed about their food. Olive oil is a part of that shift.”

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