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Gavin (Gav) Laurich and Famke van Laren at the Top Notch Macadamias entrance. Photo: SUPPLIED

Cracking macadamias at Patetonga property

Nestled in the hills at Patetonga are more than 1500 macadamia nut trees spread over 8.5 hectares with around 30 sheep keeping the grass low.
Famke van Laren and her partner Gavin (Gav) Laurich have owned Top Notch Macadamias since 2018 and have grown and processed more than 63 tonnes of the superfood.
Famke told The Profile she and Gavin “fell in love” with the property when they first viewed it in 2017.
“Gavin is a dairy farmer by trade and I’m a high school teacher by trade and Gav thought ‘trees can’t be harder than cows’, then I thought ‘trees can’t be harder than teenagers’,” she said.
“We had no knowledge of macadamia trees whatsoever, we didn’t think it would be that hard because trees don’t give you attitude or lip and they don’t give… mastitis either, and it’s a beautiful property.”
Gavin said Top Notch Macadamias was an orchard, a commercial kitchen and a processing plant which also processes macadamia nuts for other North Island growers, making it the largest macadamia processor in the country.
“Effectively we run the orchard as an orchard with all the trees growing the nuts, then we harvest them, and then we have an effective processing factory on site,” he said.
“They come off the tree with about 20 per cent moisture and we let them dry down to two per cent moisture and then we crack them and sort them into six different grades.
“From there we commercially wholesale nuts, we crack other people’s nuts they buy and then we also have a commercial kitchen which takes on some of our kernel, which makes them into various products like brittle to sell in cafes and restaurants.” Gavin said the macadamia nut trees, which produced 13 different macadamia nut varieties including beaumont, flourish at the property because it was sheltered from frost.
“People are surprised that it grows here because it’s got a reputation as being a bit of a tropical tree because it grows predominantly in Australia, Hawaii and South Africa,” he said.
“They can be a bit touchy to get started with the frosts but realistically once they’re going, they don’t seem to mind the wet too much, and they have coped with the droughts we’ve had for the last few years.
“They will produce until they’re 100 years old.”
Famke said the macadamia nut harvesting season began around June and took place for three or four months with the help of volunteers before they fertilised and pruned the trees to prepare for the next season.
Famke said the property also had around 30 sheep which acted as lawnmowers.
“It’s really important to keep the grass down – we’ve got free food and that brings in pests like rats or ferrets or possums because they can get to the nuts, so by keeping the grass low there’s no hiding place for them,” she said.
“Then we also don’t have the green vegetable bug, which is a terrible pest for macadamias because it spoils the nuts. They stem the nut when it’s still very young and they leave blemishes.
“You see that once you crack it, they won’t be your buttery, crisp nut, you can only use it in processing for either the macadamia milk or butters.”