It was a family-owned, locally produced extra virgin olive oil that heralded a change in my shopping habits 20 years ago – and, little did I know it, but “Augusto” is still around.
It’s funny how life sometimes turns full circle. Way back in the hectic times of getting three kids through primary school days, I began buying premium, locally produced, extra virgin olive oil from a parent at my kids school. His father produced the oil from an olive grove they owned at Mypolonga, on the River Murray. This actually became my introduction to a life-long addiction to the flavour, versatility and health benefits of this incredible food. It ruined me for most of the supermarket olive oil product that was available back then, and was the beginning of a major change in the way I shopped for food – ultimately laying the groundwork for much of my writing here.
So imagine the thrill I felt when, 20 years on, I recently discovered that Rio Vista Olives, my favourite local olive oil producer and one I’ve talked about here before, is produced in part from those same trees.
Olive tree cultivation has been around for many millennia, with plantings and olive use dating back to the 8th millennium BC. Extra virgin olive oil is produced by simply crushing the whole fruit to extract the juice and, while the process has evolved from giant millstones and brute strength to something more streamlined and less strenuous, the authentic and genuine end product today is just the same – pure, unadulterated, first-crush olive oil.
This season’s crush at Rio Vista Olives is done, and I was able to visit one day to watch the process. And, while it now involves a couple of big, very handsome, fancy machines from Italy (where else ?) the process is the same – sort the sticks and leaves from the fruit, wash the fruit, crush the fruit. And voilà – extra virgin olive oil.
The fruit is picked according to ripeness, and crushed in batches according to variety. But before crushing it passes through a first-stage cleaner to remove the bits we don’t want, the fruit is given a little bath to tidy it up before its big date with the crushing machine, and then the centrifuge – where every last golden drop of goodness is extracted.
The aroma in the crushing room is rich and heady, and when agrumato extra virgin olive oil is being produced, where fresh citrus, garlic or herbs are simultaneously crushed with the olives, it becomes especially intense.
Still a South Australian family-owned business, Rio Vista annually produce around 200,000 litres of olive oil from trees grown in the Mypolonga region and in the Adelaide Hills. They are harvesting from 15 different varieties of olives, and release a selection of premium extra virgin olive oil to the public. They also wholesale their premier product to restaurants, and are beginning to export limited amounts.
And back to life being a circle – the amazing oil I used to buy from my friend was called “Augusto”, which was his father’s name, and an oil Augusto himself was justifiably proud of. Maintaining links to that heritage, Rio Vista Olives have kept Augusto in their hearts and in their product line – and it’s still a crowdpleaser.