#InternationalOliveTreeDay was certainly one of the more delightful hashtags of 2020. The year that made the world stand still had quite the opposite effect within the local olive world, specifically when it came to harvesting Extra Virgin Olive Oil, or EVOO as the professionals like to term it. Tokara, one of the most regarded & beautiful wine farms situated within the Stellenbosch region of the Cape is not only home to vineyards but olive groves too. Nestled in the foothills of the Simonsberg, an intimate group was invited to spend a few hours amongst the olive trees, sampling some of Tokara’s award-winning EVOO on #InternationalOliveTreeDay, (26/11/2020).
After months of not attending functions (there were none to attend), or to be more precise, having little to no contact with others apart from immediate family, it felt wonderful to finally be back in the swing of things, sipping both excellent wine and outstanding olive oil, chatting with like-minded food folk, sharing notes & learning about the centuries-old craft of producing olive oil.
Our event took place under the billowing white drapery of a canopy, sheltering a rustic luncheon table. A centrepiece of baby aubergines, bunches of asparagus tied with twine, small terracotta pots delicately placed on their sides with a tumble of grapes spilling out, as well as bouquets of artichokes (the only kind of bouquet I actually care for), finished with branches of olive leaves. It was utterly beautiful. Gert van Dyk, Tokara’s Olive Oil Master & Operations Manager, proceeded to guide us through a tasting that sampled just how bountiful the 2020 crop was, with all five of their oils being awarded medals at the 2020 SA Olive Awards. A record 211 tons of olives were harvested this year, producing some of the finest crop of oils with the Frontoio variety, the most important olive oil variety in Italy showing exactly why it’s the pride & joy within the Tokara stable. The Frontoio olive variety is intense, with grassy green notes & a suitable bitterness that also finishes on the palette with nutty notes – my mind wondered to almonds.
The Mission variety, originating from America, is best described by Gert, as the “all-rounder within the olive oil world” & I can see, or rather taste why. Another hit of nuttiness teases the palette, along with the bitterness associated with fine olives. I must point out that Gert had instructed us before sipping, to warm the small glass of oil in our hands before sampling – this brings the oil up to temperature, releasing the necessary aromas, as with any fine wine.
The question of the day, while enjoying mouthfuls of wonderful food prepared with the above-mentioned oils… “Can one cook with EVOO?”. A resounding yes, a bad myth created by those clearly not in the know & one that Gert hopes will end. As with other ingredients, Extra Virgin Olive Oil adds to the flavours of a dish & should be enjoyed both during the cooking process, as well as enhancing the dish just before being served. Our Norwegian salmon kebabs were dressed with an additional drizzle of Tokara’s Multi-Varietal EVOO before sampling, with the slight herbacious notes complimenting the subtle salmon flavour. This dish was simple, so simple but it was without a doubt one of the most delicious salmon dishes I have ever eaten. Enhanced by those grassy notes from the Tokara Multi-Varietal EVOO? Absolutely.
It was a sheer delight hearing about the complexities of a working olive grove, one really feels the passion that the olive team puts into creating their product. A staple ingredient in my kitchen, that bottle of liquid gold now has a story attached to it, something I will be reminded of every time I reach for that pour.
I would highly recommend a visit to the Tokara Deli where complimentary olive oil tastings are offered, as well as an array of incredible local goods. Tokara’s refillable, unfiltered EVOO is on tap, which is a favourite of mine & apart from all of the treats, I’m still hoping to somehow get the recipe of that Pistachio, Lemon & Olive Oil cake we enjoyed – it was sublime.
So if Extra Virgin Olive Oil or EVOO intrigues you as much as it does me, be sure to take a drive out to Tokara to sample some (or all) of their award-winning oils & of course, another highlight of Tokara is the incredible play area they have created for children, with loads of fresh air & space – so essential during these 2020 times.
Happy EVOO sipping x