Seeded high in olive stakes
FOR Alan Hodgson, turning up at a local olive-growers meeting was the start of a successful business venture.
Now the Fairy Hill resident and his wife Denyse are one of five families growing and producing olive products in the region.
“About 10 years ago I went to a meeting of olive growers in the Casino area, started growing my own olives and then started processing olives in 2001,” Mr Hodgson said.
When he first started their company, Summerland Olive Products was processing 200 kilograms of olives per season. Now they process around '22 to 23 tonnes' of olives per year, all sourced from local growers.
“I learnt a lot of my craft from the Greek and Italian community in Australia and have also had two trips to Sicily as part of an award for our olive products and a Churchill Scholarship to learn the Sicilian process,” Mr Hodgson said.
Summerland Olives has won 35 awards for their olive products since 2006. Most recently it was the championship award and gold award for their dried sweet chilli and lime olives and bronze for their naturally pickled black kalamata olives at the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show.
Mr Hodgson said the company's secret to success was the way they processed the many varieties of olives.
“Our olives are naturally produced without chemicals or preservatives, and it takes a year to process an olive,” Mr Hodgson said.
“The marketing side is very hard because we have to compete with subsidised products from overseas.
“But we have our own unique flavours because we process the olives naturally, while others use chemicals like caustic soda in the processing.”
Mr Hodgson said the local olive industry was 'growing all the time', despite a climate that isn't always conducive to growing the fruit.
“We get our rain at the wrong time of the year,” he said. “But this also means our olives are big and plump, but with a lower oil content, making them ideal for pickled table olives.”
Currently Summerland Olive Products sells their wares in the local area, supplying restaurants and small stores while Denyse Hodgson sells them direct to the public at markets.
“At the markets we are face-to-face with customers and their feedback is invaluable,” Mr Hodgson said.