Canadian Olive Oil Eh?
If someone asked you where olive oil comes from, you might say Spain, Italy, or Greece. Nowhere on that list would you guess Canada, with its snow and harsh cold winters. However, on the West coast of British Columbia, The Olive Farm, led by retired couple George and Sheri Braun are challenging that with their extra virgin olive oil. Everything from the planting, growing, and harvesting is solely Canadian which makes this a truly one-of-a-kind olive oil.
What does it take to grow olives? To produce olive oil?
Olive trees thrive on hot, long, and dry summers coupled with milder winters. So while most of Canada is not suited for farming olive trees, the coast lines and gulf islands have more potential since their summers and winters are not so intense.
Even with Salt Spring Island’s microclimate, The Olive Farm still faced the challenge of BC rainfall. Annual rain/snowfall average in SSI is 38.9 inches over 165 days (987 ml). Too much water for olive trees can be deadly which is why they protected the trees in greenhouses for the first few years.
Once the right land is found, the variety of olive has to be chosen. Different olive varieties are better at withstanding the colder climates than others. Though olives love the subtropical temperatures, they do need cooler weather, or “chill units” in order to enter dormancy and bear fruit in the spring. For example, Italian varieties such as Frontoio and Leccino are better for growing in cold weather because they require “600 consecutive hours at 7℃”. In contrast, olives from Spain or California wouldn’t do as well here in Canada because they only need 300 hours at 7℃.
Everything from the planting, growing, and harvesting is solely Canadian.
The Olive Farm’s Story
So how did this couple decide they were going to grow olive trees and produce olive oil? After a trip to Spain in 1999, the Brauns decided that they wanted to start an olive oil business of their own. They moved from Alberta to BC to start their farming experience with a cherry orchard in Okanagan, however, this wasn’t the best place for growing olive trees. Finding the right land to start their farm wasn’t going to be an easy task. After years of searching, they learned that if they could find a place that could grow pinot noir trees, then they could probably grow olives, too. So they took a chance and in 2012, over ten years after their initial visit to Spain, they landed on a 72 acre farm plot in Salt Spring Island where Sheri used to visit as a child.
They chose olive varieties that could withstand colder climates (Frantoio, Leccino, Maurino, Pendolino), bought seedlings from California and planted them on Fulford Valley, SSI. It would be a few years before they would see any results since olive trees take a long time to mature -anywhere from five to twelve years. In 2016, thanks to friends and farmers who helped handpick 1000 pounds of olives, they had their first harvest- approximately 32 litres. Currently, they have 3000 fruit bearing trees. Every year the harvest is different -this year, even though they had the same amount of producing trees, they only yielded about half of last year’s total - 45L. One day they hope that a single harvest of theirs will bring in 600 to 1000L.
The Olive Farm and Aurelius
Last February, because of owner and founder Mike George’s relationship with the Brauns, Aurelius was lucky enough to carry some of The Olive Farm’s homegrown olive oil. As some of you may have heard, there is a three year waiting list for these products; that's how exclusive this oil is.
So how does this Canadian olive oil compare to our other products? The first thing you notice when looking at this olive is how green it is -almost like matcha (pictured below). Its taste is greener and “grassier” than anything we’ve had here at Aurelius. The Olive Farm’s peppery and complex olive oil makes the perfect gift for any foodie in your life or someone that really appreciates olive oil.
One day they hope that a single harvest of theirs will bring in 600 to 1000L.
Photos from Instagram: @theolivefarm