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Producers go from dairy farm to gourmet grub

Bernard Mahon co-owner of Watercress Creek Olives and Limes.
Bernard Mahon co-owner of Watercress Creek Olives and Limes. Inga Williams

DESPITE the family farm running since about 1890, Bernie Mahon took a fair bit of time to decide what he wanted to do with it.

The 5.6ha farm at Bony Mountain, near Ipswich, was originally a dairy and small cropping enterprise, but Mr Mahon said dairy had become infeasible on such a small farm since changes to the industry in the 60s and 70s.

He kept a few cattle on the property while he went out to work in supermarkets and truck driving for a few decades, before finally deciding to bite the bullet and plant 1200 olive trees in 1998.

It was the beginning of a whole new lifestyle for Mr Mahon and his wife Lorraine.

People can occasionally catch Bernard and Lorraine Mahon at markets in the region.
People can occasionally catch Bernard and Lorraine Mahon at markets in the region. David Nielsen

Almost two decades later and they had grown Watercress Creek Olives and Limes, with a wide range of value-adding ideas.

A tahitian lime orchard was the next big step on top of the farm's already-established fig trees, and from there Mr Mahon said it was all about figuring out how to get the most bang for their buck.

That included a side business in gourmet products like flavoured olives, tapenades, fig balsamic glazes and flavoured olive oils.

"We were doing the olives and looking for different things to do, and olives and balsamic go together," he said.

"There are all the infused oils and salad dressings, so balsamic fitted nicely.

"They go hand-in-hand traditionally back a long way."

Watercress Creek Olives and Limes from above.
Watercress Creek Olives and Limes from above. Contributed

And after a few disappointing years of selling their limes at the markets, he decided to strike up direct relationships with restaurants and nightclubs in Brisbane and said it netted something close to double the profit.

Next up, they started the annual Watercress Creek Olive Festival.

The ninth annual festival was held last weekend and Mr Mahon said more than 800 people rolled through the gates to check out the farm and pick up some gourmet treats.

"With the olives we also do tapenades and bruschetta spreads and we use the figs to make figs in balsamic," he said. "We buy the balsamic from Stanthorpe and reduce it to make a glaze.

"We just had our olive festival a week ago and as part of that we demonstrate everything, and everyone who tasted it bought some."

Watercress Creek Olives and Limes were one of the few farms in the Ipswich area able to produce a crop of figs this year thanks to intensive watering through summer.
Watercress Creek Olives and Limes were one of the few farms in the Ipswich area able to produce a crop of figs this year thanks to intensive watering through summer. Contributed

He said there was plenty of work involved in the gourmet lines and it had all but taken over the family home, but it really did pay off to the point he was preparing to put in an on-farm outlet to cater to the numerous bus-loads of people who come from Brisbane, Toowoomba and Ipswich to check out how the farm runs.

"There aren't too many people around doing what we're doing because it is a bit labour-intensive," Mr Mahon said.

"A lot of people have trouble selling tapenades but we have a good market and people come back for more.

"I'm the taster and I must have good taste buds because there aren't many duds."

Watercress Creek Olives and Limes sells four main varieties of olive, with the most popular being manzanillos.
Watercress Creek Olives and Limes sells four main varieties of olive, with the most popular being manzanillos. Contributed

He said this year had been a great season for figs on his farm, but only thanks to a huge amount of irrigation, and the limes were as steady as ever, but the olive crop was touch-and-go for a while.

With olives loving the cooler climates down south, this year's record-breaking summer heat should have been enough to kiss the crop goodbye, but Mr Mahon said it turned out much better than expected, particularly given he had decided to cut his losses and not water the grove.

Topics:  gourmet food horticulture


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