EVERY day is a beautiful day for the winelands, but some are a tiny bit better than others. Like yesterday, when a group of fabulous foodies converged at Tokara, at the top of the Helshoogte Pass between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.
It’s a location with a view that is hard to beat, as well as being the home of award-winning wines, a restaurant, a deli, and…glorious olive oil. The grapes have been brought in, and now is the time for the olives, which are harvested from March till June; this stage, they’re bitter – yet another example of the ingenuity of the ancient humans who looked at the tiny unpalatable fruit and thought “I wonder what will happen if I squeeze this really hard?”
The production plant at Tokara – of which we had a tour, all wearing sexy hairnets and earplugs – is surprisingly small, let’s say compact, processes one and a half to two tonnes of olives hourly, for a yield of 45 000 to 60 000 litres annually. Once it’s been processed, the extra virgin oil languishes in tanks until its bottling order arrives. This liquid gold sells out every year.
For olive oil master and operations manager, Gert van Dyk, who has more than a decade’s experience in the production of olive oil under his belt, it’s all about capturing the goodness of the fresh olive in the bottle, a task he pursues with vigour and passion: “A good oil is made on the tree, and at Tokara I’m lucky enough to be hands on from the olive groves right through to the final pressing stage,” he says.
Gert took us on a walk through the olive groves, which were filled with the exquisite simplicity of the dusky leaves of the trees filled with their fruit, set against the blue of the autumn sky – the colour and light of which never ceases to cause me to sigh with delight. Along the stroll we encountered several sculptures hiding like Easter bunnies. “Rabbits!” I yelled. “No,” said GM Karl Lambour, “they’re hares.” Well, of course they are, with those ears. These hares are all over the farm, striking various poses (even one swimming in a pond), and I was thoroughly charmed.
Our destination was a long table set amongst the trees, covered with wafting white awnings and large terracotta vases filled with olive branches at its corners. At each place was a trio of blue tasting glasses. Gert took us through a sampling of two types of oil – Mission and Frantoio – and a blend of the two…all freshly pressed and the colour of sunshine in a bottle. It was a lesson in appreciation of this magical oil, which is not only a dream in the kitchen but brings with it so many health benefits. The scent and flavour was incredible.
This was followed by a buffet lunch which used olive oil in every dish, from the rustic baskets of bread with hummus, olive tapenade and olives, all the way through to the heavenly olive oil chocolate mousse with fresh berries, almond meringue and Chantilly cream (pic on Instagram). Of course, there was a fine selection of Tokara wines to accompany.
Read more about the oils and how to taste them in the press release below.
Tokara’s olive oil journey began in 2000 when co-founder Anne-Marie Ferreira decided to produce single variety oils that would set them apart from the handful of South African olive oil producers at the time. Tokara focuses primarily on Tuscan varieties, each selected for a distinctive character and flavour profile.
Tokara produces fine examples of the taste spectrum of pure extra virgin olive oil – from mild to the more robust. Four cold pressed extra virgin olive oils – two single variety oils: the delicately flavoured Mission and the full-flavoured and spicy Frantoio, as well as two more intense multi-varietal blends make up the collection.
Frantoio, the most important olive variety in Italy, is the foundation of Tokara’s full-flavoured blended olive oils. It’s a medium to intense oil with a nose of green grassy notes. The palate is sublime and well balanced between green and bitter notes, with a nutty aftertaste.
The Mission variety, which stems from America, is mild and gentle with a finely balanced grassy, herbaceous character and a walnut aftertaste, making it an all-round oil.
The Tokara Mission Single Variety Extra Virgin Olive Oil is one of South Africa’s top 10 olive oils having garnered a gold medal in the “delicate” category of the 2018 SA Olive Awards. Tokara’s olive oils were also among the top achievers in the 2018 Sol d’Oro Southern Hemisphere extra virgin olive oil competition.
The Multi-Varietal Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil are carefully blended to bring together the best characteristics of the various varieties including Frantoio, Leccino and Coratina. You’ll find notes of olive leaf, rocket, artichoke and a lovely herbaceous character.
Tokara also has a refillable unfiltered, cloudy extra virgin oil on tap. This unique artisanal multi-varietal blend redefines the meaning of untouched as it was specially selected for its purity and unbridled flavours while the oil was flowing from the olive press.
“We choose not to refine this special olive oil in order to retain its fresh and cloudy appeal and make it available on tap to visitors to our Deli,” says van Dyk, who recommends using the oil within a couple of months and then returning to Tokara for a refill.
This unfiltered blend has aromas of olive leaf, pea shoots and green tomato leaves supported by a full flavour spectrum including artichoke, rocket, green olive, mangetout and walnut, finishing with a tingling of black pepper.
“When tasting olive oil one looks for fruitiness, bitterness and piquancy – but all the senses come into play – from the aromas and the actual taste to how it feels in your throat,” explains van Dyk.
While Tokara’s single cultivar or blended Extra Virgin olive oils are delicious simply tossed through crisp salad leaves, van Dyk is passionate about their versatility in any creative kitchen.
“Olive oil isn’t just something to be drizzled over a dish at the end, it should really be seen as an important ingredient,” he says. “A good olive oil brings out the flavour in food. It intensifies and enhances all of the other ingredients in the dish.”
Visit the Tokara Delicatessen for complimentary olive oil tastings and purchases. For a more structured, guided olive oil tasting experience, visit the TOKARA Tasting Lounge. Bookings are advisable. Call 021 808 5900, and for more information, click here.
PHOTO CREDIT: BIANCA COLEMAN (featured image supplied).