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Olive farmers discover talent for making dough off pizzas

Danielle Gordon with a full crate of freshly-picked olives from Forest Estate Olive Grove.
Danielle Gordon with a full crate of freshly-picked olives from Forest Estate Olive Grove. Contributed

WHEN Tony Lambdon and Danielle Gordon decided to up stumps and become farmers, the last thing they expected was to become famed pizza chefs.

But with the paddock-to- plate movement continuing to sweep the country, it was perhaps no great surprise that their gourmet olive oil business would lead them to become farmer-caterers.

Mr Lambdon said they initially made the decision to buy a dilapidated olive grove was based on the idea of becoming more self-sufficient.

Danielle Gordon and Tony Lambdon were expecting to become farmers, not pizza chefs when they bought Forest Estate Olive Grove, but went with what worked.
Danielle Gordon and Tony Lambdon were expecting to become farmers, not pizza chefs when they bought Forest Estate Olive Grove, but went with what worked. Contributed

Despite the run-down state of the 2000-tree olive grove, the property was perfect for going off-grid.

They put in some work reviving the grove and set about establishing Forest Estate Olive Oils, but knew there would be a good two year wait or more before they saw any real cash coming in.

They decided to do something different to value-add to their property by hosting woodfire pizza events.

From homemade sauces to homegrown lamb and pork, the pizzas were unique to Forest Estate and people couldn't get enough of them.

Danielle Gordon of Forest Estate Olive Grove plying wares at a gourmet food event.
Danielle Gordon of Forest Estate Olive Grove plying wares at a gourmet food event. Contributed

"Because we were aware we needed to do something to bring in money, we started making woodfire pizza," Mr Lambdon said.

"We put on pizza nights and we have a cellar door, so we did wine tasting too.

"We enjoyed it a lot and got the opportunity from there to start catering for other events like the Felton Food Festival and Gourmet in Goondiwindi.

"Pizza became our main bread winner, so we kicked on from there."

Danielle Gordon of Forest Estate Olive Grove with some of the pigs they raise for their pizza and roasting business.
Danielle Gordon of Forest Estate Olive Grove with some of the pigs they raise for their pizza and roasting business. Contributed

They started with one woodfire pizza oven and in a few years worked their way up to four specialty charcoal and woodfire ovens, along the way branching out into slow-roasted pork and lamb grown on the farm and slaughtered in nearby Millmerran.

He described it as a "crazy kind of situation" they never expected, but found despite all the hard work, they were pulling in money and having a wonderful time doing it.

Sometimes that meant getting on the road at 6am to prep and head to a festival, often not returning home until midnight.

Their catering company, Flaming Good, now caters at festivals and events from Casino all the way up to Rockhampton from their base near Millmerran.

Canadian worker Kayla gently empties a basket of olives into the hopper for de-leafing at Forest Estate Olive Grove.
Canadian worker Kayla gently empties a basket of olives into the hopper for de-leafing at Forest Estate Olive Grove. Contributed

"As farmers we need to diversify and we had to do something to keep the farm afloat, and that's taken over," Mr Lambdon said.

"It's a crazy story and we just had to roll with it."

The only problem with their flourishing business was the olive grove back at home.

With all the running around and keeping the farm running day-to-day, they began to struggle to find the time to do what they needed with the olive grove.

Tony Lambdon of forest Estate Olive Grove cooking one of the estate's famous pizzas.
Tony Lambdon of forest Estate Olive Grove cooking one of the estate's famous pizzas. Contributed

Mr Lambdon said this year had been a good one for olives and they had produced olive oils for valued customers like restaurants and regular mail order customers, but there was still around half of this year's crop on the trees, a total of about 12 tonnes.

In previous years the duo had advertised for people to come out and pick their own olives and bring them to the press to be turned into oil, but Mr Lamdon said they were even running short on time to do that.

"If you know anyone who wants to come and pick their own olives you can send them this way," Mr Lambdon said.

He said the next step in the business was developing their own sauce range, based on family recipes.

There was plenty of work involved in getting Forest Estate olive grove back up to scratch when Tony Lambdon and Danielle Gordon bought it.
There was plenty of work involved in getting Forest Estate olive grove back up to scratch when Tony Lambdon and Danielle Gordon bought it. Contributed

Topics:  diversification olives


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