Liquid gold flows from TOKARA’s olive groves
Harvest season knows no bounds at TOKARA, the family owned wine and olive estate on the crest of the Helshoogte pass outside Stellenbosch. Just as the grape harvest comes to an end, it’s time to gather the bounty of the rows of thriving olive groves on the rolling foothills of the Simonsberg.
Acclaimed for its award winning wines, TOKARA also enjoys recognition as one of South Africa’s top producers of world-class extra virgin olive oil.
The olive harvest, stretching from mid-March well into June, is a busy time for olive oil master and operations manager, Gert van Dyk, who gently extracts the liquid gold from the diverse selection of olive varieties as they begin to ripen one after the other.
For van Dyk who joined Tokara in 2014 with 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.”
Under his watch, the hand-picked olives are pressed within 24 hours of being harvested to safeguard their unique flavour profiles.
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 Tel: 021-8085900.
More about TOKARA extra virgin olive oils
Throughout the classical wine-producing regions of the world, there is a natural association between the olive grove and the vineyard. At TOKARA this celebrated relationship continues to thrive.
The first four hectares of olive trees were planted on TOKARA’s steep slopes in 2000. Since then the orchards have grown to cover 22 hectares, planted predominantly with the classic cultivars of Frantoio, Coratina, Leccino and Mission.
Depending on the season, the harvest usually begins in mid-March, and continues until late-June. The cultivars usually ripen at different times starting with Leccino, followed by Frantoio, then Mission before ending with Coratina.
After the olives are harvested by hand they are brought into the TOKARA Olive Shed where they are gently cold pressed using centrifuge to release the oil from the fruit in the state-of-the-art Pieralisi extraction plant.
The definition of ‘Extra Virgin’ oil comes down to a complicated chemical analysis of peroxide and low levels of natural free acidity, achieved from the first cold pressing of the olives.
After extraction, the oil is settled in steel tanks for two months, before being drawn off the sediment for polishing, a delicate filtration that removes any remaining sediment, and bottling. No chemicals are added, nor is there additional processing to extract the maximum oil from every olive. The unused pips and olive flesh are composted down and reused on the estate ensuring zero wastage.