World class olive oil doesn’t usually make one think of Japan. Yet, one very special olive production in Shodoshima on the island of Shōdo Island, is revising regional clichés about this golden culinary staple. Toyohiro Takao has taken away several awards over the last decade, including the Olio Nuovo Days awards and continues to go from strength to strength. The family-established olive farm is spread out over seven different groves, each with a unique sunlight, wind exposure, and soil composition. The oil adheres to the strict international standards of Extra Virgin. We talk more to olive master Toyohiro Takao about a very particular production.
How did you come up with an idea of producing olive oil?
When I started growing olives, I found more and more joy in the growth of the trees and the fruit they bear. At first, we planted 200 olive trees. The next year we planted 500, and the year after that 700… and every year we planted new seedlings, more and more. We are still adding more. We have gone from being casual olive growers to becoming full-fledged olive producers. Shodoshima is known as one of the best olive growing areas in Japan. Compared to the rest of the world, Shodoshima is a very small area, and a short history, with only 113 years of cultivation. This is the reason why I decided to start growing olives.
Why did you choose Shozu-Gun Kagawa for your farm?
I was born and raised on Shodoshima. My grandfather and grandmother were farmers who grew chrysanthemums, plums and olives. When I decided to start growing olives, it was thanks to my grandfather’s farm. The farm was cleared and olives were planted.
Where did you learn to make olive oil?
The oil extracting machine is made by TEM, an Italian company. When we bought it, they came from Italy to teach us how to use it and how to extract the oil. I then went to the University of California, UC Davis, to study at the Olive Center. Every year, I visited olive growing areas and organic vegetable farms in San Francisco, Napa Valley and Sacramento to learn about agriculture in general and to interact with them. We also went to Italy, Australia and other regions. I found a lot of things to learn and hint on the process. Producers and university professors from Italy, Australia, USA, Tunisia, Morocco, New Zealand, France and other countries visited my farm to exchange ideas and learn from each other.
If we ask for too much olive oil, we will not get a good taste.
Japan is not known for its olive oil production. What are the biggest advantages and challenges?
Japan imports a lot of olive oil. Shodoshima is well known as a producer in Japan, but it is a very small producer compared to the rest of the world. 99.99% of the olive oil consumed in Japan comes from imported sources. This is due to the small size of the farms that can grow olives on Shodoshima and the fact that the climate is not conducive to olive growing. The rainy season in June, the typhoons in July and August, the autumn rains in September – when the olives are looking for the sun, Japan is in the rainy season. In this context, Shodoshima may not get much rain, but it gets a lot more than other growing areas in the world. The lack of sunshine reduces the oil extraction rate. However, we feel that if we ask for too much olive oil, we will not get a good taste.
What is the most important aspect of olive oil making?
To produce beautiful fruit on the farm. If the fruit has many blemishes, the colour of the olive oil will not be as green as it should be.
Once the fruit is harvested, it must be harvested quickly. This is to ensure the best possible freshness.
The oil should be filtered as soon as possible. If the juice and pulp are not separated from the oil quickly, the rancid smell of the juice and pulp will affect the oil.
These are the three most important aspects of the year-long olive growing process. And we don’t cut corners.
What makes good olive oil?
Here are the three points from the previous question and the opinions of those who have eaten it. Fruit tastes best when it is ripe, but in the case of olives, they can be picked at any time. The taste depends on the ripeness of the fruit. The best time to pick the olives is when the variety is at its best. Then we ask a lot of people for their opinion on the taste. We try to get as close as we can to what we consider to be a passing grade.
Since 2018, we have been evaluated by Eric from the Cordon Bleu in Paris, France, and Emmanuelle from OLIO NUOVO DAYS. This gives us confidence, certainty and the ability to make good olive oil with confidence. Of course, the evaluation by Aiste of Luxeat is also a strong vote of confidence.
How popular is olive oil in Japan?
Year on year, imports are increasing and olive oil is becoming more and more popular. It is now used in olive oil shops and Japanese restaurants. It is also increasingly grown in Japan.
How much olive oil do you produce per year?
7,000 to 10,000 bottles. Most of them will be reserved for a year and sent out in November and by December this will be finished. From January to October, we also grow asparagus. From January onwards, the day’s work consists of asparagus in the morning and work on the olive farm in the afternoon.
What is your biggest market?
In Japan, the main market for the olive oil is in the large urban areas of Tokyo and Kansai.
Where can we buy your olive oil? In Japan and around the world?
Seto Inland Sea Naoshima Benesse House, olive oil shop OLIVO, Asakusabashi Kaneda Oil Shop and other shops. Restaurants such as Kappo Nishimura (Mie Prefecture), Shimalabo (Hiroshima French cuisine) and Kappo Kurata (Tokyo Oyama Soba noodles). Bakery shops, sandwich shops, pubs, wine shops and many other shops in Japan. Overseas, Food Land ST.BARTH is located in the Caribbean.