Oliviccio - award-winning olives produced in Oldham

Halkidiki green olives

Halkidiki green olives - Credit: Archant

Rural Lancashire isn’t the first place you’d expect to find delicious olives. Emma Mayoh found out more

Carl Woodhead and Nikki Hill of Oliviccio

Carl Woodhead and Nikki Hill of Oliviccio - Credit: Archant

When you think of olives, images of sun-drenched fields filled with trees bearing fruit come to mind, not a small Lancashire village near Oldham. While Delph is a picturesque location, it’s not a place you’d expect to find award-winning olives. But locals Carl Woodhead and Nikki Hill produce some of the best on the market.

The couple, who launched Oliviccio in 2007, dress and stuff their own olives with the finest herbs and other ingredients obtained from New Smithfield Market in Manchester.

The olives, either Halkidiki or Kalamata varieties, are sourced from Greece. The couple pride themselves on producing olives that taste much better than most that are available in the UK. They are not pasteurised, so they retain their flavour and crunch and Carl and Nikki soak all of them to remove much of their strong salt taste.

‘People think olives are really salty,’ said Nikki, 51. ‘But they’re not if they’re a good quality and have been treated properly. We get so many people telling us they don’t like olives then they try ours and they change their minds. I didn’t like olives until I tried these.’

‘Olives should have a crunch but often they don’t in the UK, they’re soft when you bite into them. We make sure we get rid of all the brine they are preserved in so the real flavour can come through.

Carl and Nikki started Oliviccio because their own supplier was giving up. They had gone to their local farmers’ market for their latest batch from producer Ruth Wharton. When they heard she was closing the business down, there was only one option.

‘We had to take it over,’ said Carl, 52. ‘They were the best olives we had ever tasted and the only ones we wanted to eat. We were walking back to the car and I asked Nikki if we should take it on.

‘It was a bit crazy, I suppose, but we decided to go for it. It’s just because we were greedy we got into it. We wanted to keep eating those delicious olives.’

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The pair left behind careers in graphic design and building surveying to run Oliviccio. They were taught all of the basic skills by Ruth and over the past nine years they have developed their own ranges and flavours.

Their basil and garlic and chilli and garlic varieties were awarded a coveted gold star in the Great Taste Awards.

Nikki and Carl dress and stuff around 50 kilos of olives a week. On top of that they also make hummus, tzatziki, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto and tapenade.

They also source the best antipasti including cheese-stuffed red chilli peppers, dolmades, gigantes, spanakopita, baklava, Spanish cooking chorizo and Mediterranean bar snacks.

Cheese figures high on their list of goods including Greek Dodoni feta, Cypriot halloumi, manchego and a vegetarian Parmesan-style cheese called Grana Moravia. Most of them have protected origin status.

The majority of their produce is sold at farmers’ markets in the north west. They also sell to local delis, farm shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants including at Kenyon Hall Farm in Croft, near Warrington.

During the summer months they also run StreetDeli At Home where customers can visit their Delph production unit to buy their products as well as other Mediterranean produce from other businesses. Their olives are in demand.

But despite their popularity, Carl and Nikki do not want to make Oliviccio big business.

‘That’s not what it is about for us,’ said Nikki. ‘We’re busy enough as it is. We don’t want to have to hand over parts of the business to other people. We want to keep the quality.

‘There is no getting around it, people don’t share the same passion we have.

‘But it’s also about out lives and how we choose to live it. Doing what we do, spending time at farmers’ markets with like-minded people is fantastic. This is a way of life for us, it really is. And we love it.’

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