Alan Hodgson remembers vividly the first time he tasted an olive: “I grabbed a raw fruit and bit it. And the bitterness… it was terrible. And the taste stays with you for hours and hours, it was shocking,” he laughs.
It was an experience that would put most people off olives for life, but not Alan.
A few years down the track, he and wife Denyse planted their own olive grove on their Jiggi property, and Alan went on to become a multi-award winning olive processor.
Alan and Denyse’s olives, formerly sold under the name Summerland, but now known as Grumpy Grandma’s (an affectionate nickname for Denyse), are recognised nationally for their quality and flavour.
It’s the traditional fermentation process that sets their olives apart – a method of olive processing that Alan adapted after extensive research, which included two trips to Italy. The olives are cured using just salt, water and fermentation – none of the chemicals and dyes that go into mass produced olives.
“Most of the big manufacturers use lye, which is caustic soda. They soak the olives in lye …and that speeds up the debittering process so you can eat them much quicker.” Alan said.
“It takes away the bitterness but it also rips all the flavours out.”
Olives produced in this way are ready to eat within three weeks, but Alan’s take anywhere from six months to two years.
Alan and Denyse’s chemical, dye and preservative free method creates a unique tasting olive that retains some bitterness, and maximises the health benefits: “The bitterness is the health factor. It’s the thing that gives them the antioxidant properties…once you do all that stripping out, all those health properties are basically wiped out as well,” said Denyse.
Alan and Denyse have received more than 80 awards for their olives and olive oils over the past decade, and continue to experiment with new products, such as their wood smoked olives and olive oil, which picked up silver and gold awards at last year’s Sydney Royal Fine Food Show.
Despite the many accolades, Alan is not one to rest on his laurels.
“I’m always looking to fine tune and improve flavours, “ he said.
“I think I can make it better, so I do.”
• Story and photos by Kate O’Neill