Question: What does organic olive oil, the environment, love songs, Tsunami relief and adventures on the high seas all have in common?
Answer: One extraordinary man.
And his name is Jeremy Meltzer, philanthropist-adventurer-musician turned entrepreneur-olive farmer who found passion, purpose and prosperity in a 100% recyclable cask of extra virgin olive oil.
So, when Divya Gugnani of Behind the Burner told me about Jeremy — and that I would have the amazing opportunity to follow media divas like Martha Stewart in interviewing him — I was beyond thrilled. Before I even connected with him, I was already moved by his unique story and the countless ways in which his endeavors are helping women, orphans and the environment. But I had no idea how far-reaching his efforts actually go and the life-changing experiences that have led him here. For Jeremy, it’s not just about eating and drinking better — it’s about living better and his main goal is to help others do just that. From small gestures to grand scale initiatives, Jeremy is a beacon of hope, bottled and direct shipped to you from Australia.
He also happens to be very easy on the eyes with a voice that has the smooth enchantment of Michael Buble mixed with the depth of Andrea Bocelli. Needless to say, I’m kicking myself for conducting a phone interview instead of meeting him in person while he was in New York City meeting with The Food Network. I am, however, listening to him croon love songs as I write this for added infatuation inspiration.
Your oil has been getting a lot of media attention lately. The New York Times called it ‘liquid gold’ and Martha Stewart gushed that it was ‘absolutely delicious.’ How does it feel to have your creation receive such high profile accolades? What is it about your oil that you think sets it apart from the rest?
I think that when one makes a product with integrity and passion, when no corners are cut, when the goal is to create an artisanal product that can be appreciated by the most discerning food lovers, eventually, certain accolades come. The intention though, must lie in the product, not in the press. I think this is an important distinction.
To share some very recent exciting news, the celebrity chefs on The Food Network are now using Yellingbo Gold on their cooking shows.
I’m fascinated about the route you’ve taken from crew member on the high seas to musician to olive farmer. Can you share some of the back story with our readers about how you got into the oil business?
The common thread has been adventure and commitment to live each venture as fully as possible. To be the best I can be in each moment, in each undertaking. One weekend, my father planted 3,500 olive trees on our family farm. Several years later they grew and, as timing would have it, I was ready for the next adventure. I saw there was no Australian extra virgin olive oil in the USA and thought… it may be exciting to be the first.
What do you like most about olive farming?
I love working on our land. It’s such a wonderful antidote to New York (although I love being in The City). I work with my father; we talk, eat at our little table upstairs, and watch kangaroos hop between the olive trees as the sun sets over the valley.
What are the special characteristics about your oil that differ from the others available on the market today? Are there any advantages that the Australian terrain offers when growing olives?
Around Yellingbo, most of our neighbors make wine. It’s a renowned grape growing region with a very Mediterranean climate. So, it’s also a perfect climate in which to grow olives. (Domain and Chandon have a beautiful vineyard only 20 minutes drive from us).
Currently the labeling laws in some European countries allow ‘blended’ oils to be labeled ‘extra virgin olive oil.’ This is a shame as it damages the integrity of the term ‘extra virgin,’ which has a rich history and is clearly defined as oil from the first cold pressing of olives, with an oleic acid level of 0.8% or less.
In Australia, we have a unique opportunity. We have so much land, so few people and a relatively ‘virgin’ ecosystem. So, we can provide premium extra virgin olive oil to the world that is exactly what it says it is. Exactly the same oil that goes into Yellingbo Gold’s glass bottles, goes into the new Yellingbo Gold 4L Cask.
Your olives are hand-picked, cold pressed and unfiltered. What benefits does this afford the olive oil? How does it affect the taste?
On small Italian estates, I have spoken with farmers who insist hand-picked olives create sweeter olive oil, as the olives do not become bruised by mechanical harvesters. In Yellingbo, we hand pick all of our olives. It’s a boisterous family affair that takes place in Australia around June/July each year. Cold pressing is an important step in ensuring the oil will be of ‘extra virgin’ quality. Keeping the oil unfiltered retains the heavier organic particles in the oil. It will often look cloudy but will have a wonderful buttery complexity on the palate.
Is Yellingbo Extra Virgin Olive Oil organic?
Yellingbo EVOO is not certified organic. Such certification takes several years in Australia and is something we are working towards. That being the case, we use only organic farming practices. Absolutely no chemical fertilizers are used at any time during the process.
What are you most proud of about your product?
It is, of course, a source of pride to have created something from nothing. I’m also proud that we are pioneering a new Australian product in the US, one that is both environmentally friendly and supportive of various foundations that are meaningful to us as a family. I’m also proud, thanks to the Internet, that we can now offer the new Yellingbo Gold Cask at great value to customers.
When it comes to health, are all olive oils created equal?
No. Only fresh extra virgin olive oil has the highest level of antioxidants. Given the lack of transparency with the labeling of many European olive oils (especially and principally at the lower price points), I recommend people look for estate oils that have clearly marked ‘best before’ codes. When oil is exposed to light and air it begins to turn rancid within a few days. Rancid oil, besides tasting unpleasant, will have lost many of its most potent antioxidant qualities. You can find more information about our oils, and its many benefits at http://www.yellingbo.com.
Do you have any special recipes using your oil or are there any dishes that Yellingbo complements best?
There is a simple dish I love:
Take a block of fresh Greek feta. Sprinkle the feta generously with fresh oregano and then drown it in half a cup of Yellingbo. Makes a great appetizer with hot crusty bread and a glass of Australian Shiraz!
You are a philanthropist at heart and deeply committed to the environment. Tell us how Yellingbo Gold Australia supports the environment and some of the science behind the 100% recyclable cask you’ve developed to house the oil.
It is very exciting to have created the new Yellingbo Gold Cask. It is such an exciting improvement over a tin — and even glass — bottle. The cask is made of 70% recycled materials and is then 100% recyclable at end of use. Tests have shown that, compared to a tin, the cask reduces environmental impact by up to 95%. Tins require a lot of energy to be manufactured and then generally end up rusting as landfill.
The Yellingbo Gold Cask has the additional advantage of keeping the oil completely sealed from air and light. The cask has an internal bladder that collapses as the oil is used, so it will stay fresh till the last drop. For several months or longer you’ll have fresh, delicious oil on tap. As mentioned before, olive oil that’s kept fresh will also retain its highest levels of antioxidants.
In addition to the efforts that you take to reduce your carbon footprint and help the planet through your manufacturing and packaging processes, you have set up a fund to help the orphans of the Tsunami, which is a cause that is very close to your heart. What was your experience with the Tsunami and how has it impacted your life and your business endeavors?
We almost lost my two sisters to the Tsunami in South-East Asia in 2004. For five days we didn’t know if they had survived. Finally, we heard their voices, and quickly organized their evacuation back to Australia. I was in India at the time and decided to stay and try to help in some of the relief camps along the Indian and Sri Lankan coasts.
For me, it was a pivotal moment. After the tsunami hit, most Westerners, understandably, left the country immediately. Somehow, it seemed too easy to leave. So, I stayed and spent two weeks working in these relief camps. It was there that I saw things and had experiences I hope others never have to have. So many, who had so little to begin with, had lost everything. So many died. So many children were so suddenly orphaned.
Upon returning to Australia, as a family, and with friends, we decided to create a foundation to assist orphaned children in desperate need. Realizing how profoundly wealthy we all are relative to 90% of the world’s population, and how children are the most innocent victims of poverty and disaster, we have committed, indefinitely, 5% of all profits from Yellingbo’s sales to The Jasmine Foundation.
What other causes are you actively involved in?
I am an Ambassador to the White Ribbon Day Campaign in Australia, a UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) initiative to raise awareness about violence against women. I find this a deep honor to have been invited. I am now also actively involved with UNIFEM in New York. We donate 10% of proceeds from sale of the album ‘Moments’ to The United Trust Fund To End Violence Against Women.
Did you actively set out to build a company that would give back to society? If you weren’t changing the world through olive oil, what would you be doing?
In my case, it was a process of evolution combined with moments of profound impact. Initially, the desire to ‘give back’ was most inspired by the tsunami. When the wave hit, the needs of others were so immediate and desperate, that acting immediately was more a visceral reaction to simply doing what I felt was right, rather than responding as a product of a wider philosophy.
This ‘sense of justice,’ I can trace to when I lived in Latin America and met many women who had been victims of physical and sexual abuse. I remember feeling very angry. I remember thinking, ‘how can this be allowed to happen?’ Since then, I always sought an opportunity to do something; help, give back, try to make a difference in some small way.
I now believe that businesses, which exist for the sole purpose of profit, are in some ways archaic and unevolved. I think it is our responsibility to give back; something, somewhere, somehow. Every business — after reaching a certain degree of financial sustainability –- could/should give back, even in a small way. If this were to happen, imagine, the cumulative effect would be enormous.
It doesn’t have to be a huge donation to be meaningful. After witnessing the massive devastation caused by the tsunami, it seemed anything I could do would be grossly ineffective, rendering it almost irrelevant. I realized though, that if I could help even one person, this would help their family, which would help their community, and so on… Imagine the combined ripple effect of all of us helping in some way.
I had the pleasure of listening to some of the songs from your CD Moments, ‘Love songs to cook to…’, which you offer as a special bonus with the purchase of the olive oil and donate a portion of the proceeds to The United Nations Trust Fund To End Violence Against Women. Why did you decide to record the album? Do you have other musical endeavors planned? Will you be performing any of the music live in the future?
When I heard the song ‘Moments,’ I knew I had to record it. Originally performed by Julio Iglesias, it speaks of a sentiment, of a simple yet profound truth; that life is made up of moments. When we look back on our lives, weeks, days, what do we remember but the moments that have moved touched and inspired us…
I recently performed for Bluenote Records in New York. So, as to future performances, I will definitely let you know.
What tips can you share for readers to distinguish between the different olive oils that are available?
Fresh is best. Olive oil does not get better with age. So, it’s best to look for oils that have an expiration date as far into the future as possible. This will give an indication of freshness. Currently, most bulk oils in three and four liter tins are not premium and often not even extra virgin. There is generally a large difference between a bottle that costs $10 and one that costs $20. Small estate oils are generally best. The ‘New World’; Argentina, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia are now producing excellent EVOO’s. Like wine, it is fun to experiment. See which oils you love and complement your favorite foods.
Are you a cook as well? Have you always been interested in food?
I can’t say I’m a great cook. I’m learning — still crawling rather than walking. But, I love to eat! Does this count? Growing up in a family of Eastern European heritage, good food (and a lot of it!) always appeared on our table each night. Often enough to feed a village, guests seemed to always marvel, and then later wonder, where it all went!
Do you have any visions of branching out in the future into other culinary areas?
At this stage, we plan to continue making the best extra virgin olive oil we possibly can. I hope to introduce as many families as possible to our new Yellingbo Gold Cask. It offers so many exciting advantages over a tin and is great value online. Fresh, premium EVOO is expensive in shops, and a 500ml bottle never lasts very long. So, we developed the cask and have it available direct online at chef’s wholesale price. It seems to be the only bulk cask of premium EVOO available direct to the public in the US.
If you could share just one thing about Yellingbo Gold with our readers, what would it be?
Eat well. Live well. Love with abandon.
The integrity with which we feed of bodies, forms foundation to the integrity with which we conduct our lives. Great food, romantic music and someone wonderful to share it with…
What more could we want?
(Author’s note: *swoon*)
If ever the term ‘handmade with love’ were apt it would be in describing Jeremy’s creation with Yellingbo Gold. And other than the fact that the product is vastly superior and does monumental amounts of good with every purchase, I feel as though Jeremy’s energy and warmth leaves its subtle traces on every bottle. And who doesn’t need a little bit of sunshine fresh from the Australian countryside in their life?
If (not surprisingly) you haven’t gotten enough of Jeremy, be sure to check out his segment with Martha Stewart and recipes at Behind the Burner, your source for culinary secrets from master chefs and tips and ticks for making five-star creations at home. Best of all, readers can get a 10% discount off the purchase of Yellingbo Gold with code: btb089 when ordering online, along with additional member privileges by signing up at Behind the Burner.