Some of the most commonly adulterated (and commonly consumed) food products the world over are milk, honey, saffron, orange juice and olive oil. And sometimes simply reading a label isn’t a huge amount of help as brands are able to slap all kinds of false claims on their products while consumers are none the wiser. Food fraud is real, and while we’re being ripped off eating substandard products, many are actually detrimental to our health; with additions like formaldehyde and hydrogen peroxide oftentimes used. Cobram Estate‘s super-charming co-founder and executive chairman Rob McGavin says, “Anyone selling or producing a product who is prepared to cheat obviously has little regard for food quality, safety, standards and regulations. It goes without saying that this is dangerous to consumers.”
The brand has just launched its US webstore, and McGavin is thrilled to have Cobram products (which won several Best in Show and Gold nods at the 2015 New York International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition, among others) available for Americans. “Consumers in the US are in the same position that Australian consumers were in five years ago. They are (generally speaking) being deceived by importers and middlemen into purchasing low-quality and, in most cases, adulterated olive oil passed off as genuine Extra Virgin,” he says.
We met McGavin when visiting the Murray Basin’s stunning Boundary Bend—the land on which Cobram Estate’s olives are grown—and while he’s certainly a successful business man, he is also a longtime farmer with strong roots in Australian agriculture. Growing up in outback Queensland on a sheep and cattle farm, McGavin was essentially a jackaroo. He then went to agriculture college and at just 23 years old, asked his dad to mortgage the family farm so he could buy a small winery in South Australia. Over the years, he grew the farm over eight times and eventually sold it to explore the olive oil industry with his old college pal, Paul Riordan. On making the move, McGavin says, “Growing olives for oil seemed so exciting because it was a new industry, consumption was growing… We had the chance to really make a difference.”
As a father and a farmer, I am increasingly concerned that my children are inheriting a world where cheating in food is more prevalent then they could ever know
Concern about how degraded olive oil is has fueled much of the pair’s ambition—along with a self-proclaimed “obsession” with bringing honesty and integrity back to the industry. McGavin tells us, “As a father and a farmer, I am increasingly concerned that my children are inheriting a world where cheating in food is more prevalent then they could ever know.”
Boundary Bend is beautiful, and with a climate much like California, it’s perfect for growing walnuts, almonds, grapes and—of course—olives. But the similarities end there. The ground is quintessentially Australian outback: rich, dusty and red. But the olives don’t hit the ground here (unlike in many other groves, like in Spain). Cobram Estate olives are plucked from trees and taken to the factory within just four hours of picking.
The factory is kept dark so the fruit doesn’t over-ripen and is kept at a perfect 17 degrees Celsius (62.6 Fahrenheit). It’s simply vital choices like this that make Cobram olive oil tasty and healthy—with plenty of antioxidants, phytosterols, vitamins and monounsaturated fatty acids (a healthy dietary fat) that all high quality olive oils have.
While visiting the picturesque groves, we also were treated to a meal by Cobram’s Kevin O’Connor—a Sacramento-born chef who has wholly embraced the Australian approach to food and cooking. With a focus on foraging and the outdoors, O’Connor was entirely at home cooking a meal with just a campfire and a makeshift kitchen in a three-walled wooden shed.
The results were bonkers: smoked trout salad with beets, celery leaf, dill and almonds; a Chinese-inspired take on kangaroo served with steamed buns and charred grapes; and an olive oil carrot cake. O’Connor says that, aside from the flavor, Cobram Estate is great for cooking for several reasons, “Since it’s a very high-quality oil, it means the smoke point is very high which allows a cook to fry in the oil, sear at high temps, BBQ or—my favorite—cook over hot coals.” For regular home cooking, the benefits are simple: “Breakfast of eggs and toast with quality extra virgin can help with hangovers, migraines, menstrual cramps, inflammation; the list goes on.”
Cobram Estate just launched its US online store.
Images by Katie Olsen