Original article published in the Australian Financial Review, 5-7 November 2021
The Tarascios may be well known as Melbourne property scions. But their passion project is Taralinga Estate, which produces some of the finest olive oil in the world.
The farm's genesis was the acquisition of 80 hectares on the Mornington Peninsula at Shoreham in 2010. Salvatore (Sam) Tarascio Snr immediately recognised the land's potential, which was at the time covered in dense bushland.
"We exposed an incredible sea view when we cleared the land. I had an old Pajero four-wheel-drive and before I bought the property I bush bashed through the paddocks and happened to see a glimpse of water. I good on the Pajero's roof and Western Port Bay opened up before me. I was immediately sold - it was an amazing piece of land."
After the land was cleared, the Tarascios turned their minds to what to do wit it. Tarascio Snr's grandfather pressed olive oil in his Italian hometown and his grandson wanted to honour this legacy.
"I have a very strong olive oil culture. We've always had olive oil in our lives. It's regarded as a super food with high antioxidants. So, we planted two and a half thousand trees and built the required infrastructure around them. It became a passion and a hobby.
"The Mornington Peninsula's microclimate is perfect for olive growing. So, after planting the trees, we built the house and waited five years before our first olive harvest."
The farm won awards for the quality of its olive oil from the first harvest. Now into its fourth harvest, Taralinga Estate recently won two gold medals and a silver medal in the 2021 New York International Olive Oil Competition, regarded as the olive oil Olympics. The award means that Taralinga Estate has been listed on the official index of the world's best olive oils.
"We're thrilled to produce a product with enormous and proven health benefits. I take 40 millilitres of olive oil every morning as a health elixir," says Tarascio Snr.
Achieving such a high standard requires strict processes around how the oil is processed and stored.
"It's important the steps within the process are rigidly maintained. We send the olives to a laboratory, which tells us when the antioxidants are at the absolute maximum and they let us know the perfect time to pick the fruit.
"The antioxidants will stay at maximum levels for a short time, so you have to work with mother nature and pick the olives when the lab says the antioxidants are at their highest.
"We have a vertically-integrated system through which we grow and process the olives on site within eight hours of picking them. Often, they go straight from the tree to the processing plant," says Tarascio Snr.
Today, Taralinga Estate produces two olive oils - Fruttato and Robusto - and sells hampers that hero its olive oils. Pomace - the residue from olves - is used as an organic fertiliser and is also added to the property's cattle feed.
COVID-19 hasn't hampered the business, although the Tarascios are frustrated that border closures have prevented the travel of specialist technicians from Italy to service their olive press.
"The modern Pieralisi plant is still in perfect order. But it is useful to get the experts out, because the way oil is produced is quite technical and the plant does need certain adjustments on an annual basis," says Tarascio Snr.