New Zealand’s olive-oil industry is barely 20 years old, but since the first olive trees were experimentally planted in the country in 1985, the number of olive growers there has soared to more than 500. The reason? Olives are very easy to cultivate in New Zealand’s temperate climate, particularly in the Marlborough region, where the same weather that is favorable for wine production also results in beautifully rich, fruity olive oils. New Zealand growers have planted olive varieties from all over the world, including Israeli barnea (the most common), French picholine, Greek koroneiki, and Italian frantoio, leccino, pendolino and moraiolo olives. See how they’ve fared, with this roundup of our favorite New Zealand oils:
BLUMENFELD The late Gideon Blumenfeld, an Israeli horticulturist and scientist, is often referred to as the godfather of New Zealand’s olive-oil industry. Lured to New Zealand by his Kiwi wife, Triska, he settled in the Wairau Valley after researching the climate and soil, and planted his first commercial crop in 1986. Today, the Blumenfeld brand is New Zealand’s biggest olive-oil producer. Order its award-winning oils at blumenfeld.co.nz.
TASMAN BAY This company, in New Zealand’s sunny Nelson region, produces both a cultivar and a frantoio-leccino blend. Both won gold at the Los Angeles County Fair in 2004. Marketed under the name Elovi within New Zealand, these delicious oils are exported to the U.S. and Japan—and you can also have them shipped to your front door. Go to olivesnewzealand.com.
ATHENA Named after the Greek goddess credited by mythology with planting the first olive tree, Athena is located in the heart of the tranquil Waipara Valley, an hour north of Christchurch. Owner Helen Clausen gives tours of the farm, but restive visitors seem more interested in the tasting than the talking—and with good reason. Athena’s first-pressed, extra-virgin oil is as green and viscous as a fruit nectar, and quite exquisite. Flavored oils (including lemon and pepper) are also available. International shipments can be arranged at http://www.athenaolives.co.nz.
MOUTERE GROVE This producer is known for its organic, single-estate olive oils—and its Tuscan blend has won prestigious international olive-oil awards in 2001, 2004 and this year. The company specializes in Italian olives and was recently honored with inclusion in the authoritative book Best Olive Oil Buys Around the World by Judy Ridgway—a critic who is to the world of olives what Robert Parker is to wine. Derived from fairly young plantings, Moutere Grove’s oils can exhibit annual variations—grassy one year, lemony the next. Taste for yourself, by ordering from mouteregrove.co.nz.