Thirty-one steps from tree to packet - some of them secret...that's what we found when we slipped into Blenheim to visit our 'Mr Pine Nut', Lee Paterson. It's literally a straight 30 minute drive from Renwick, though if you were going on a Sunday, should the urge take you, you could stop at the naturist park on the way for a spot of nude golf.

Since it wasn't Sunday, we drove on to see the 13,356 pine trees Lee planted in 1998 and 1999. This is not the only spot Pinoli grow trees, at this point they have a total of 40,000 planted, in many sites in the South Island. The aim is to increase numbers dramatically over the next few years as larger numbers increase viability of the business. Pinoli is the only known commercial producer south of Lebanon.

From all the varieties of pine trees, only some of which produce nuts desirable for eating, the Pinus Pinea, which produce the distinctive long, creamy nuts we know as Pinoli, are what Lee has chosen to concentrate on, although he has an archive of other varieties planted for research and interest. It's a bit like flowers, none of them look the same.

Fourteen years into the business Lee has only recently had enough quantities to sell outside Blenheim and not enough to supply many people, so quantities at this point are still limited. He only sells to a handful of selected retailers nationally as well as the local Blenheim market on a stand often 'manned' by his partner Zoe, who is also in charge of sorting, packing and dispatch.

These pine nuts are very nutritious, containing pinoleic and linoleic acid, as well being a source of protein, vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K plus calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and iron. Sounds like you could easily just survive on them really.

The trees are not that tall yet and quite a pretty round shape. On any one tree you can see pinecones of varying maturity growing for the next three seasons. Prime pine cone production is around the age of 45.

July is the month they start harvesting, but it takes until November for the nuts to be ready for us to eat. There is a process of getting the nuts from the cone, drying - and then the highly secret process of getting the nut out of the kernel.

Lee himself is the man for the job. A background in forestry and welding, along with being in the position to continue investing, have put him in a bit of unique position to succeed. Over the years he has visited pine nut growers in various European countries, seeing lots of conflicting processing practices, then custom-designed and built, with the help of his mates, many of the machines used in the process of taking the nuts from tree to packet. Pretty well done really.

Another excellent example of Kiwi ingenuity - and this one we can eat!



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