Our Olive Workshop

We have a saying here in the country — "If it can't rain, at least the weather can be beautiful."

And beautiful it was, as a group of friends, family and enthusiastic "food foragers" assembled in the warm morning sunshine under the pomegranate tree at the Osteria last weekend, to learn all they could about olives, olive oil and how to preserve them.

Our local olive guru, Sarah Thomson from Chapman Hill Olive Grove at nearby Glenarua came to spend a morning with us and share some of her knowledge about olives and olive oil. She was very generous with her time and knowledge. We all felt we had learned so much in a few short hours.

As she walked with the group through the olive trees we have in the orchard, she named each variety — Kalamata, Ligurian — and described what each variety is best suited to — eating or olive oil.

She showed the group how to test if olives are ripe and ready for picking - pierce the skin and rub the flesh over the back of your hand, the oilier your hand feels afterward, the riper the fruit.

When we all returned to the tables set up in the sunshine, with our boxes full of plump, ripe olives, she then explained how to preserve them. And such a simple method — none of the dreary changing salty water every day for a month, or the angst when you missed a day! Just one simple brine mixture in a big jar, turned regularly.

Using this method, Sarah says the preserved olives can be left like this in their brine for up to two years in a cool, dark spot. And then then equally simply, rinsed and marinated in olive oil, fresh herbs, garlic, chilli and served.

After a tasting of her different varieties of olive oil and a discussion of which is best for different dishes or different styles of cooking, and with taste buds well and truly stimulated, we returned to the Osteria for a relaxed and enjoyable lunch with Sarah's delicious olives gracing the platters of antipasto and the pizzas Deb and Matilda whipped up in the pizza oven.

Beautiful sunshine, golden autumn hues, lively conversation, lovely food, heaps of inspirational tips on how to preserve olives, a glass or two of delicious wine — all in all, a day well spent.

For those of you that missed out on our Olive Picking and Preserving Workshop and Lunch, Sarah Thomson has kindly shared her recipe for Champman Hill Olives on her website.