Seeing an olive grove on the Mornington Peninsula is akin to spotting one in the Barossa or Yarra Valley, and nestled among the wineries and rolling hills of Red Hill wine country is Main Ridge Olive Co.
Like many small producers, Main Ridge Olive Co took time to gain momentum, and after juggling to balance full-time work while growing his business, co-founder and former chef Tim Jupp made the decision to join forces with business partner Jon Ford, combining their skills to build “a few bottles a month” company into what it is today.
Now managing more groves on the Ninch than any other olive company, the pair harvest trees in Red Hill, Main Ridge, Rye and Flinders, which brings with it a wealth of oil varietal and olives mixes each season.
Tim and Jon work hands-on through every step of the olive farming process — from picking the olives, to pressing, naturally salt brining and packaging them.
It’s a meticulous process, not dissimilar to wine-making, where the organically-managed olives are cold pressed within six hours of leaving the trees, ensuring maximum flavour remains in the oil.
Another benefit is locking in the olive’s ‘phenols’. Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil is rich in antioxidants and the healthiest oil to cook with (EVOO being the least refined and most nutrient-rich of the olive oils).
The fermentation of their naturally cured table olives involves picking, sorting and washing the varieties, then placing them into a salt water brine for up to two years.
The mark of a premium olive lies in this “slow” method — and you’ll taste the difference immediately. While the olive jars you see lining your supermarket shelves are indeed still cured, most are rapidly processed in chemicals like caustic soda, which speeds up the process, at the expense of the natural olive flavour and texture.
In the three years since its beginnings in 2017, the business has expanded rapidly, with Main Ridge Olive Co’s signature paper-wrapped extra virgin olive oil and "really good" cured olives stocked in more than 20 fine grocers, restaurants and farm gates along the Mornington Peninsula and beyond.
Tim has found the move from small, hot, busy kitchens, to the diversity in agriculture and beauty of the Peninsula landscape life-changing.
“My ‘moving office’ is arguably the most spectacular on the Peninsula,” he says.
Next season the olive growers are looking to branch out into agrumato oil: a traditional Italian method that involves cold-pressing citrus fruits with olives to produce a zesty, naturally-flavoured olive oil.