South African Olive Oil
South African Olive oil and table olives have earned their place with the world’s best. Public awareness and increasing demand means more farms are offering tastings, pairings and workshops. For SAA Mango Juice, June 2014.
There is something very stately about an olive tree. The gnarled, twisted trunk and silvery-green branches bear a fruit that was domesticated almost 6000 years ago in presumably the area between Turkey and Syria. Hardy and relatively disease free, olive trees are associated with several things that have been important to modern civilization. The precious liquid is used commonly in cooking in the Mediterranean and Levant, and now worldwide, economic viability and steadfastness (they can live for thousands of years), and the branches a symbol of peace, derived from the customs of Ancient Greece.
The first olives for commercial pressing in South Africa are said to have been planted by Italian prisoners of war, at De Hoop, a farm in Paarl. But long before that, the first cultivated trees were planted by Jan van Riebeeck at his farm Boschenheuvel in the Cape, in 1661.
It is hard to imagine that someone had the foresight to squeeze from the bitter stone fruit, the liquid gold that has become essential ingredient in cookery. And while we traditionally associate olive oil with countries like Spain, Italy, Israel and Greece, in South Africa, a favourable climate has resulted in an increase in the production of high quality olive oil, as well as excellent table olives. As public awareness about what good quality olive oil grows, the demand for locally produced oil is on the up. But, what constitutes a good olive oil?
Olive Oil Check List
If you are prepared to spend a little more on olive oil over other options, it’s best to know what you’re getting and that you are not being short-changed. Tom Meuller, who wrote the shocking exposé on olive oil fraud, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, offers some sound advice on his website Truth in Olive Oil (www.truthinoliveoil.com)
- If it’s cheap it’s not a bargain. Extra virgin olive oil (known as EVOO) is expensive to produce – a fair price means you’re getting what you’re paying for.
- Olive oil expires. It doesn’t age like wines do, so buy as you need and check the labels for this year’s harvest and the best-by date. Stored appropriately the oil lasts no longer than 2 years
- Only buy oils in dark containers that protect against light. Store in a dark, cool place, sealed well.
- Ideally, buy from a knowledgeable supplier who will bottle from a well-sealed stainless steel container as they sell. Try to taste before you buy.
- Olive oil colours vary from yellow to gold. There are around 700 olive varietals after all. Worry only if the colour is cloudy, and if it smells mouldy, or metallic, greasy, rancid or generally unpleasant.
- Extra virgin olive oil may taste slightly bitter, with a peppery aftertaste. Greener oils will taste grassy.
- Oils labeled ‘light’, ‘pure’, ‘olive oil,’ etc. and not ‘extra virgin olive oil’ have undergone chemical treatment and are more suited to deep-frying.
- Look out for labels such as ‘SA Olive 2014’, which is a seal that states the producer has complied with the S.A Olive Board’s standards and that labelling is transparent and honest, and the olives are grown in South Africa. The date indicates date of bottling.
Good Oils from the Bad
The medical benefits of olive oil as used in Mediterranean diets, are widely extolled. For example, olive oil contains mono-unsaturated fats, which control LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol while increasing HDL (‘good’) cholesterol and vitamin E needed to maintain clear, unclogged arteries. Did you know that no two oils are created equal and that several international scams have been exposed, where the oil has been chemically treated or mixed with vegetable oils and sold as extra virgin? For years we’ve believed extra virgin olive oil from Italy to be superior, and yet reports from 2011 revealed that the majority of olives used in oils labeled ‘Made in Italy’ came from Spain, Greece, Morocco and Tunisia. The olive oil industry has been marred by this duplicity and South African producers have banded together to ensure than local oils produced are clearly labeled and of the purest quality.
South Africa’s Finest
Why not spend a weekend tasting olives, olive oil and related products in the Western Cape where olives for commercial use are grown in the country.
At Morgenster in Somerset West, stalwarts in the local industry, owner Giulio Bertrand brought in olive trees from Italy, and combined with the exceptional terroir, has produced award-winning oils. The estate’s extra virgin olive oil comprises a blend of 17 Italian varietals, and was recently awarded an impressive 98 out of 100 points at an international competition. The farm also produces single cultivar and flavoured extra virgin olive oils, table olives and tapenades and offers tutored tastings. Morgenster Wine & Olive Estate, Vergelegen Avenue (off Lourensford Rd), Somerset West Tel 021 852 1738 email@example.com www.morgenster.co.za
At Lemoendrif Farm, tucked in a corner of the tranquil Tulbagh Valley, Pieter and Sue du Toit planted their first olive groves alongside the old oak trees in 2004. The granite and sandstone-rich soil provided the ideal nourishment for the trees, and very recently the Oakhurst Delicate Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a 10 blend varietal won the best in its class at the New York International Olive Oil competition. “Ours is a family owned farm and all the processing of our table olives is done by ourselves. We have always blended our own oils, and this year we will be pressing them on the farm as well,” says Sue. The farm also produces more intense flavoured olive oils, brined table olives and will soon be offering tastings at the farm, where a new mill is being built. Oakhurst Waveren St, Lemoendrif Farm, Tulbagh, 6820 Tel 023 230 0842 firstname.lastname@example.org www.oakhurstolives.co.za
In 1993 entrepreneur Annalene du Toit ventured into the olive oil business by producing a line in her farm kitchen for ‘pocket money’. Today, Kloovenburg produces over 40 products in its range, including smoked tapenades, an olive chutney and a full natural olive oil cosmetic line. With five varietals grown, the attractive tasting room is set up to complement the farm’s wine and olive offering. Kloovenburg, Riebeek Kasteel, 7307 Tel 022 4481 635 email@example.com, www.kloovenburg.com
Rated by Tripadvisor as the number one activity in Robertson, Clive Heymans takes guests through a memorable tour of his father-in-law Peter’s Coetsee’s farm, with tastings of olive oil from the tank and tapenades that he prepares. Predominately a table olive farm, the extra virgin olive oil pressed to ‘avoid wastage’ has won several South African awards. “We enjoy seeing the pleasure people display when tasting our products and experiencing our farm,” says Briony Coetsee. Mezze platters can be ordered for groups with advance booking. Marbrin, 30-39 Robertson Road, Klaasvoogds East, Robertson, 6706. Tel 078 840 8228 firstname.lastname@example.org www.marbrin.co.za
A consistent winner of awards since 2002 when the first oil was pressed, Willow Creek in the Nuy Valley has been in the Rabie family since the 1700s. Together with partner Johan Pretorius, the Rabie’s have created one of the most respected and largest olive farms in the southern hemisphere, growing 11 cultivars. The farm has a wonderful deli and bistro that prepares olive-themed menus. Willow Creek, Nuy Valley Tel 023 342 5793 email@example.com, www.willowcreek.co.za
Prince Albert Olives
The Great Karoo is known for its dry summers and cold winters. Figs, pomegranates and olives thrive in the area and Prince Albert Olives focuses on one product – great extra virgin olive oil called Karoo Blend packaged in vintage-looking tins. Owned by the Swartland winemakers, the Badenhorst family, visitors can book tours, tastings and workshops. Tel Essie Esterhuizen on 023 541 1687 Hope Street, Prince Albert, Great Karoo, firstname.lastname@example.org www.princealbertolives.co.za