The Green and Gold
The region's local olive oil is brimming with health benefits
Margaret River produces high quality olive oil that tastes like olive oil should as well as containing the health benefits imported oils lack. Dianne Bortoletto chats with one of the region’s small producers.
Petra Olive Oil Estate began as a retirement project in 1999 when Melina Somas’ parents planted some olive tree saplings in Yallingup. Fast-forward seven years to the first glorious pressing of olive oil and a year later, Petra Olive Oil Estate was officially opened. Petra, which means stone or rock in Greek, is a nod to Melina’s heritage and provenance to the land. When they were digging the three dams on the 30-acre property, they found natural granite rock and used it in the construction of the buildings on the estate.
Petra Olive Grove has 1,200 olive trees; the fruit is handpicked and pressed on site in small batches, using only the first press to create ‘Extra Virgin’ olive oil. There are over 1,000 varieties of olives in the world. The Petra Premium Cold Pressed Extra virgin olive oil contains eight different varieties of olives that they grow on their estate, a blend of Italian, Greek and Spanish varieties: Frantoio (Tuscany, Italy), Koroneiki (Greece), Kalamata (Greece), Leccino (Tuscany, Italy), Nevadillo Blanco (Spain), Pendullino (Italy), WA Mission (France/Spain/USA/Australia) and Picholine (France; used as a cross-pollinator).
Myth-busting some olive facts, Melina explains that there’s no such thing as green and black olive varieties.
“All olives start off green and as they ripen, they turn black. The green Sicilian olives you see in jars in the major supermarkets are dyed green – horrible thought isn’t it?” she says as I shudder.
Melina says that many people regard olive oil to be healthy, but in fact it’s only quality extra virgin olive oil that carries the maximum health benefits.
“The health benefits of extra virgin olive oil are well documented but what isn’t so well known is that many of the imported olive oils don’t contain the polyphenols – antioxidants – that generate the health benefits from healing sunburn to lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and reducing the risk of heart disease,” Melina says. “Our oils are regularly tested and the polyphenols are measured in ‘ppm’. A typical extra virgin olive oil is between 100 and 250ppm and Petra Olive Oil averages 430 to 450ppm – the highest it goes to 500ppm. The imported olive oils, even those branded ‘extra virgin’ often have low ppm levels, as low as 50ppm or less in some cases. So it really does pay to use quality extra virgin olive oil.”
The award-winning products produced on the estate include early and late harvest oils as well as expertly crafted flavoured oils including lemon, lime, garlic, chilli, and herb. Melina said that the flavoured oils they create have a synergy with the land and the oils are usually flavoured with what they grow on the estate.
“The citrus flavoured oils, the ‘Argumato’, are created by crushing the whole citrus fruit with the olives during the pressing process which creates an incredible flavour and crisp freshness that can’t be replicated,” Melina explains. “Traditionally, lemons were used at the end of the season to assist in the cleaning of the granite wheels and mats in the ancient olive presses. The practice evolved over time into an annual celebration of the end of the season and the crisp tangy zing of the oil became highly prized for its distinctive taste.”
To complement the olive oils, Petra makes a range of delicatessen items including olives, tapenade, pizza sauce, pistachio dukka, apple balsamic vinegar, and pasta sauce that is made by Melina’s dad.
“Our ‘black oil’ is quite famous and absolutely delicious – we mix black olive tapenade with extra virgin olive oil to create a thick savoury sauce that can be used as a dip, on salads, fish and it’s really nice mixed into pasta, much like a pesto,” she says.
If It’s not just olive oils and deli items that make a visit to Petra worthwhile, they also make a range of natural cosmetic products, 17 in total including shampoo and conditioner, soap, facial wash, shaving soap, face and body scrubs containing crushed olive pips, facial moisturisers, lip treatments, gardeners hand creams, all purpose moisturisers and baby oil. My favourite, the facial serum, is a blend of EVOO and avocado oil, jojoba, rose hip and vitamin E, as well as delicious smelling essential oils geranium, clay sage, frankincense and lavender to create a natural way to smooth wrinkles, complexion and repair skin tissue. Your face will love you for it.
“Olive oil has been used since the beginning of time in beauty regimes,” Melina says. “Cleopatra used to bathe in it!”
All the estate-produced olive and olive oil products are sold at the Petra Shed Door and online. There are also dog-friendly luxury farm-stay guest units on the property that overlook the dams and olive groves; three queen suites and two deluxe king suites – giving you the chance to stay right in the heart of olive oil country.