The importance of connecting with your producers [opinion]

26 May, 2016 by
Dane Richards

A recent Straight to the Source tour of the Southern Tablelands, including a stop at ALTO Olives, demonstrated just how important it is for chefs to see where their produce comes from.

ALTO Olives, located in the Abercrombie wilderness area of the Great Dividing Ranges, near Crookwell, was one of the stops on a recent Straight To The Source industry food tour, conducted in the NSW Southern Tablelands. Shortly afterwards, ALTO’s Robust and Vividus olive oils won Gold and Silver respectively at the most prestigious EVOO Competition in the world, the NYIOOC.

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Following on from that, both won gold in Japan, consolidating not only ALTO’s position on the world stage, but also promoting the local Australian olive oil industry. ALTO previously achieved world recognition, most notably when its estate grown Vividus won both Best in Class, and Gold at the 2015 New York International Olive Oil Competition. Considering the 2016 NYC show attracted 820 entries from 26 countries, it is important to reflect upon its humble beginnings and journey to fully appreciate the immensity of that achievement.

ALTO owner Robert Armstrong said, “I didn’t actually choose to plant olives, olives chose me.” Rather than being daunted after planting 300 spindly trees he was given from a friend, all of which unfortunately died, he bought another 1,000, which sadly also perished. Keen to understand why, Armstrong set off on an educational odyssey to Italy, South America and Greece, and just over 15 years later Hopeful Ranch is home to over 20,000 trees, which provide 15 different oil and table olive varieties.

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Robert’s daughter Westerley Isbaih, who spent her early years in South East Asia, is not only the marketing representative for ALTO, but has also followed in the footsteps of her father by judging regularly for the Australian Olive Association.

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A tour of the production facility is both a testament and stark reminder of the work behind producing the 40,000 litres of oil, and 30 tonnes of table olives that ALTO generates annually. A tasting masterclass conducted by Westerley of the ALTO olive oil range, differentiates between each product and highlights the brand’s connection to the land.

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The Straight To The Source tour provided invaluable insights into ALTO’s philosophy, with 100 percent access to both the process, and the captivating groves on their property in Peelwood. Since their first harvest in 2003, the Australian family behind ALTO has consistently delivered low intervention world class olive oil in the pursuit of excellence. The 2016 harvest has just been completed, and early indications are pointing to ALTO delivering yet more sensational olive oil throughout its range.