Extra Virgin Olive oil is fragrant, opulent, and peppery with the promise of an unforgettable meal.
With more than 500 grape-producing farms scattered throughout its countryside, South Africa carries an international reputation for its wine industry. But did you know that it’s also home to a vast number of olive oil producers? More than 130 at the last count! In fact, it is quite common when driving through wine country to see, side-by-side with the vineyards, great orchards of olive trees that in the dying months of autumn become pendulous with vivid green and purple fruit.
For centuries, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) has been treasured as much for its contribution to cuisine as its medicinal properties. And here in South Africa — specifically the Western Cape, where there’s a Mediterranean climate — there exists the perfect terroir for growing olives. And while the trees may have been imported from other parts of the world, just like our grapevines, South Africa has appropriated the art and science of EVOO production in the most exquisite way; enabling us to compete and often win, on many international stages.
What is EVOO? Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the purest juice of the olive fruit, with no defects and no additives. Olives are harvested after picking and crushed as soon as possible; the oil is then extracted from the pulp at a temperature below 30°C. The maximum age for the best flavour is two years. Fresh is best
Hand-in-hand with our burgeoning olive oil industry is the experience these producers offer visitors to their farms, from tours of their olive presses and groves to guided tastings of the opulent elixirs they extract from the bitter fruit. With that said, here are some of our favourite destinations for experiencing South Africa’s very own extra virgin olive oils.
The 300-year-old Morgenster Estate in the Helderberg is one of the country’s most respected EVOO producers, with accolades that include “Best Blended Olive Oil in the world” and “Mill of the year” at L’Extravergine. The estate produces a good range of olive oils, pastes and olives to work your way through while enjoying the farm’s landscapes surrounding the tasting room.
For both wine and EVOO tastings, stop by Morgenster’s contemporary tasting room, which overlooks a gorgeous dam, mountains, and wetlands.
Located on the pretty outskirts of Franschhoek, the fine food capital of the Cape, Babylonstoren is a centuries’ old wine estate where guests can steep their gums in award-winning wines, delicious food (in any of its three restaurants), and fresh, extra virgin olive oil. On offer in Babylonstoren’s Tasting Room are olive oil tastings and soon they will add brand new tours, which will take guests on an enlightening meander around the farm’s olive plant, culminating in a tasting of its three luscious oils.
Chaloner crafts a signature range of EVOO at its Falcon’s Nest Farm in Stellenbosch, as well as table olives, tapenades, infused oils, and artisanal jams and preserves. Owners Perry and Karen Chaloner adhere to the strictest standards in the manufacture of their sublime oils, which have unsurprisingly gone on to clinch many awards, including gold at the South African Olive Awards. The farm itself is spectacularly beautiful to visit and offers olive oil tastings by appointment.
There are three styles of EVOO, and they are Delicate: subtle, fresh and fruity in taste and aroma, perfect for bread, salads and roast vegetables. Medium: this style has a fruity and peppery aftertaste and bitterness, best for salad dressings, pasta and sauces. Intense: a very fruity and fragrant extra virgin olive oil with a strong bite of bitterness. Great for sauces, soups, roasts. Try different oils to find your favourite food combinations.
Carpeting the Breede River’s southern banks in olive groves, the Rio Largo Olive Estate is the progenitor of an award-winning EVOO that is the perfect blend of Frantoio Coratina, and Leccino olive cultivars. Here, in the Scherpenheuwel Valley, between the country towns of Worcester and Robertson, this delicious olive oil is available in beautiful 500ml and one and two-litre decanters, as well as for tastings, which can be arranged by appointment. Rio Largo is one of SA’s top award-winning olive oils, and have successfully been accredited with local and international awards every year since 2010.
Located at the top of Helshoogte Pass in Stellenbosch, the delicatessen at TOKARA Olive & Wine Estate is the kind of establishment you’d be happy to be accidentally locked in overnight. In addition to its vast pantry of charcuterie, cheeses, fresh breads, chocolates and cakes with floor to ceiling displays of TOKARA wines and olive oils. Guided olive oil tastings are offered at the TOKARA tasting lounge.
All of these estates and farms adhere to strict COVID-19 safety protocol and, as such, you should book your olive oil tasting in advance. Alternatively, you can easily acquire their EVOO products online, via their websites, and set up your own home-curated tasting experience!
Here are more of our (and South Africa’s) favourite local EVOO’s to try:
A blend of Italian olive varieties, this Karoo blend is perfect with salads and pastas. R199 for 1 litre.
Available at Woolworths stores and Yuppiechef.
From olives originating in Paarl, this EVOO is fruity, spicy and fresh with deep flavour. R129 for 500ml.
Available at Yuppiechef.
Baleia’s EVOO is buttery with hints of black pepper and a pleasant bitterness. Perfect for salads and roasts. R125 for 375ml.