Across the Mediterranean olive groves and vineyards have long been an indelible part of the landscape. From Portugal to Spain to Italy, elegant olive trees grace the hillsides between rows of neatly clipped vineyards, rolling countryside giving way to memorable vistas.
And it’s a similar scene that awaits visitors to TOKARA Estate atop the Helshoogte Pass between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Long famous for producing award-winning wines, TOKARA is today garnering equal acclaim for its world-class olive oils.
The first four hectares of olive trees were planted on TOKARA’s steep slopes in 2000, the bold vision of Anne-Marie Ferreira, co-owner and founding member of the TOKARA Olive Shed. Since then the orchards have grown to cover 22 hectares, planted with the classic cultivars of Coratina, Leccino, Frantoio and Mission.
Today these groves thrive under the careful watch of Gert van Dyk, Operations Manager for the estate’s olive oil production.
“All of our olives are harvested by hand,” explains van Dyk, who joined the estate in 2014, bringing with him two decades of experience in the olive industry. “Depending on the season, harvest usually begins in mid-March, and continues through until late-June. The cultivars ripen at different times, so harvest begins with Leccino, then Frantoio kicks in, then Mission, and we finish off with the Coratina.”
The harvested olives are brought to TOKARA’s state-of-the-art Pieralisi extraction plant, where a centrifuge is used to release the oil from the fruit. This cold-pressing technique, along with only using the first press of the olives, allows Van Dyk to obtain the exact chemical analysis – low levels of natural free acidity and peroxide levels – that is critical to obtain the sought-after classification as Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
TOKARA goes on step further in a bid to reduce the estate’s carbon footprint and ensure zero wastage – unused pips and olive flesh are composted.
“What makes TOKARA so special is that we are a boutique producer, with a range of both blended oils and single cultivar oils,” explains van Dyk, who says the various olive cultivars have their own unique aromatic profile and flavour. In addition to the two popular blended oils, TOKARA offers single-cultivar Frantoio, Leccino and Mission olive oils.
“Frantoio is the most important olive cultivar in Italy, and all of our blended oils are built around Frantoio. On its own it’s a medium to intense oil, with a nose of green grassy notes. The palate is sublime; it’s very well balanced between green and bitter notes, with a nutty aftertaste. Leccino, on the other hand, is a more delicate oil that’s a little sweeter on the nose. Mission is a medium-intensity fruity oil, with lovely apple notes on the nose and a walnut aftertaste. It’s an ideal all-round oil.”
If there’s no space in the pantry for an array of single cultivar olive oils, TOKARA’s Multi-Varietal Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil are carefully blended to fit a particular taste profile. The TOKARA Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil blend includes Coratina, Frantoio and Leccino, creating a more intense olive oil with notes of olive leaf, rocket and an appealing herbaceous character.
While TOKARA’s single cultivar or blended Extra Virgin olive oils are delicious simply tossed through crisp salad leaves, Extra Virgin Olive Oil should also be a staple ingredient in any well-stocked kitchen. TOKARA’s range of oils brings out the flavour in food, it intensifies and enhances all of the other ingredients in the dish, and so key is to match the right oil with the right ingredients.
Visitors to TOKARA can discover their favourite oil every day of the week, with complimentary tastings of all five oils available at both the wine-tasting centre and the TOKARA Delicatessen. Guests visiting the estate during harvest season may also enjoy the unique opportunity to sample oil fresh from the press in true Italian style.