Now, writes Richard Cornish, the next generation continues the passion for good food sourced from around Victoria.
What is it?
A visionary family bought a disused fifty-year-old olive oil plantation at the base of the northern end of Gariwerd (the Grampians) in 1994. Overgrown and in need of care, the trees were pruned, the weeds removed, and the farm bought back to life. Mount Zero Olives, named after the peak overlooking the grove, started producing exceptional cold-pressed olive oil and naturally fermented table olive within a few years. Local grains and pulses grown on neighbouring Wimmera farms were then added to the inventory, and in 2009, a collaboration with the Wotjobaluk people saw the production of hand-harvested salt from a nearby saline lake.
Who’s producing it?
Jane and Neil Seymour reconquered the Mount Zero site bringing their vision of seasonal, local produce to the Wimmera. They built a home, a small farmgate in an old school building, and a café with a smart courtyard, and they identified like-minded olive growers across the state to work with to supply the growing market. Their son Richard worked alongside them and now is principal in the business, and his parents still share their experience in a mentor role. After droughts and COVID, the family sold the farm last year. “It allowed us to really concentrate on sourcing quality olives,” says Richard. “Having all our eggs, or olives, in the one basket meant we were reliant on the farm with the risks of fire and drought. Now, Mount Zero is about nurturing long-term farming relationships and concentrating on our traditional processing techniques that ensure we put the best into a bottle, jar or packet.”
Where is it?
Richard Seymour works with small, family-owned olive growers near Mildura, around Shepparton, northeast Victoria, and the Otways, and he sources his barley, freekeh, fava beans, lentils, and chickpeas from farms within 50km of Horsham. The salt is hand-harvested by Seymour and locals from the Wotjobaluk community at Pink Lake, six kilometres northwest of Dimboola in the Wimmera.
Why it’s different
The table olives are fermented on the farms on which they’re grown in micro-fermenters. “We want fermentation to happen really slowly, so the texture and skin of the olive remains intact,” says Seymour. The olives are then aged for up to nine months before being bottled without pasteurisation, meaning the good bugs for gut health remain intact. When it comes to olive oil, Richard looks for fruit that is ripe, full-flavoured, and packed with polyphenols, the compounds that give the oil its sharpness and pepperiness, and which is also associated with health benefits.
And of the oil, Mount Zero EVOO has been recognised as some of the best in the world. Produced without enzymes, the 2023 Picual Early Harvest recently won a gold medal at the Terraolivo International Olive Oil Competition.
Who’s a fan?
“We’ve been using their olives in our olive mix for 15 years,” says MoVida’s Frank Camorra. “And Mount Zero oil is the first thing people taste when we serve our bread on arrival, so it has to be good.” Camorra works with Seymour to produce a MoVida house blend each season. “The oil is always super fresh; it’s a great relationship.”
Bryce Edwards is head chef at Fitzroy planted-based diner Transformer, and has used Mount Zero Extra Virgin Olive Oil since it opened in 2015. “I use different oils for different dishes. I like the agrumato (citrus infused) oils to lift some dishes, the smooth mouthfeel of picual in salad dressings, and the smoked olive oil over the oven-roasted, beer-braised cabbage to bring out the rich smokiness of the cabbage.”
Where can I get it?
Mount Zero products are available in IGA supermarkets, food stores, grocers and online at mountzeroolives.com.au.
By Richard Cornish