On a sunny winter’s day not so long ago, a shuttle full of happy Cape Town bloggers, influencers and social media gurus were whisked away to a tasting experience with a difference. We spent the afternoon in the company of the TOKARA crew and were treated to a “fresh-off-the-press” olive oil tasting, followed by an elaborate olive-oil inspired luncheon. Although I was a bit apprehensive to start with, this turned into a gorgeous day that left me with a lasting aftertaste of liquid gold.
When you think of olive oil, you don’t automatically consider actually drinking it. Or tasting it. I’m going to safely assume that most people only cook with olive oil, or use it for a base for a salad dressing or drizzle, if they’re the home-chef type of person.
The history of olive cultivation (and the production of olive products) in South Africa is an incredibly interesting and rich one; a story that goes back as far as the early 1900’s and span a growth period through to 1936 when the first hydraulic oil press was imported from Italy to South Africa. For the sake of the word count of this blog, you can go HERE to read the whole history.
There’s always been this beautiful bond between wine and olives. Olive trees have been planted companionly around vineyards for thousands of years. The vineyards and olive groves of the Eastern Mediterranean region appear in some of the great religions’ oldest holy books.
Much closer to home, at TOKARA, high on the Helshoogte pass between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, the relationship between the olive grove and the vineyard has been embraced and celebrated. Renowned for its sophisticated wine and culinary offerings, TOKARA has also produced award-winning extra virgin olive oils since 2000.
Anne-Marie Ferreira, founding member of the Olive Shed, recalls what her motivation was to plant olive trees on Tokara at a time when the South African olive oil industry was virtually non-existent. “Our family is passionate about wine and food, and both elements play such a vital role in bringing family and friends together. It therefore made absolute sense for us to plant olives to produce quality extra virgin olive oil that would complement our quality wine range.”
As always, I was childishly excited about the prospect of spending a midweek sunny winter’s day at TOKARA and learning more about their olive oils, wine and food offerings. I have never been to TOKARA before (yes, I just admitted it in public, so sue me!) and I’ve done one olive oil tasting before, which left me incredibly underwhelmed. I was secretly hoping and praying that TOKARA would deliver a day of indulgence to change my mind. Guess what? They delivered that and then a bit more…
The olive oil tasting
We were seated at a classically elegant set lunch feasting table in the Olive Shed. Each place was immaculately laid out with beautiful tableware and three bright blue tasting glasses holding the olive oils to be tasted, neatly labelled and attractively presented. The table was also laden with slices of fresh ciabatta and bowls of parmesan shavings, to accompany the tasting. I had a sneak peek at the menu, and could not contain my excitement anymore. I’m sure I squealed like a little girl at the mere thought of wood-oven roasted mushrooms and olive oil cake.
We were heartily welcomed and introduced to the event by Karl Lambour, General Manager of TOKARA. After a very informative tour through the olive pressing facility lead by TOKARA’s olive oil maker, Gert van Dyk, he eased us into the olive oil tasting itself, showing us how to warm it up in our hands, what characteristics to look for in a good quality olive oil, and what to expect on the palate once we taste the different varietals.
At TOKARA, the olives are hand-harvested and then processed in their boutique pressing facility on the estate, from middle March each year until the beginning of July. Having planted predominantly Frantoio, Leccino and Mission olives on the property, TOKARA was the first South African olive oil producer to bottle and market single varietal olive oils from these varietals.
The tasting was sublime. I was mesmerized by the subtle flavours of the different varietals, although they were all so uniquely different, each with its own personality and flair. I started to mentally pair ingredients and dishes with the different types of olive oils in my head, and I began to understand how olive oils are simply not just meant for every day cooking, as is the general public perception. I realised that most people are probably not using olive oils to their full capacity. Good quality olive oils, like the ones produced by TOKARA, are meant to add taste and deep layers of full flavour to a dish, rather than just a means for frying or coating the pan.
The mission (see what I did there?!) at Tokara was clear: other than manufacturing excellent quality olive oils, it is also about changing perceptions of how it is consumed. “You can add it to anything and that’s what we wish to convey to our consumers,” says Gert. “From drizzling it over a salad, to adding it to a minestrone soup, or even incorporating it in desserts – it’s such a natural, healthy and versatile ingredient.”
Lunch is served
Chef Richard Carstens and his team outshone themselves. The carefully curated luncheon menu showcased their olive oils in glowing golden light and the star of the show was most certainly the olive oil cake, served with buffalo milk mozzarella and yoghurt, olive oil ice cream (!), black pepper and oregano. We were even so fortunate to receive the secret recipe for this cake in our goodie bags at the end of our day! But shhh, don’t tell anyone!
The beautiful offerings from the kitchen was further complimented by a selection of TOKARA wines, and the atmosphere was jovial and cheery as we feasted on the foods of the valley. I particularly enjoyed the roasted mushroom starter with root vegetable puree, spinach, peppered salami and an anchovy and truffle dressing. The biggest surprise of the day was the hidden mushroom ravioli that appeared once you tucked into the starter – I don’t need to say how much I love foodie surprises…I’ve included a photo of the menu for you to drool over. You can thank me later.
Each course was selectively prepared with one of their olive oil varietals to give you the best experience of the different types of olive oil produced at TOKARA. The aromas of the oils were perfectly matched to each of the ingredients in the dishes. What a delightful afternoon filled with pleasant foodie experiences and a reminder that we have world-class produce right here on our doorstep.
I would highly recommend the complimentary olive oil tasting offered by the TOKARA Delicatessen. And whilst you’re there, indulge the family in a beautifully peaceful lunch in this stunning deli. Stock up on a range of oils and wines and have a walk through the exquisite sculpture garden before you depart. All in all, a wonderful family experience if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for an afternoon. Thank you to Manley Communications for organising such a superb event!