WORDS: KIT HEATHCOCK IMAGES: KIT HEATHCOCK & SUPPLIED

The olive harvest at Tokara, high on the Helshoogte Pass above Stellenbosch, lasts over three months as different olive varieties ripen. Visiting in April, walking through olive groves heavy with fruit, we watched that day’s hand-harvested olives being cold-pressed into flowing rivers of gorgeous extra virgin olive oil, and tasted it straight from the press.

Olive oil master Gert van Dyk tells us, “A good oil is made on the tree. I’m lucky enough to be hands on from the olive groves right through to the final pressing stage.” They buy olives from other growers to supplement their own 22ha of orchards and Gert spends time at each location to determine the exact point of ripeness to pick each variety.

Tokara bottle two single variety oils, Mission and Frantoio, and two multivarietal blended oils, selected to balance the three main attributes that olive oil is judged on: fruit, bitter, pungency. Gert took us through a tasting so we could experience this for ourselves. After warming blue glass cups in our hands, we first inhaled the aromas, then sipped and let the oil spread across tongue and palate. The first element to register is the fruitiness, mid-tongue detects the bitter quality, and then a slow release burn of the pepperiness hits the back of the throat. The ideal oil has a balance across all three, but personal preference plays a part, as does the culinary use you put it to.

The gentle Mission single varietal, with warm fruit and only a mild peppery pungency, was lovely in a subtle couscous salad at lunch. More outspoken with a fierce kick, the Frantoio complemented hearty roast vegetables. The blends were delicious all-purpose characterful oils that work well across the whole menu. There’s also a lovely blended unfiltered oil available on tap at Tokara Deli. “We choose not to refi ne this special olive oil to retain its fresh and cloudy appeal,” says Gert.

One important thing to note about olive oil, is the fresher the better. Unlike wine it doesn’t improve with age, so use liberally and return to Tokara for a refill. This is gold that cannot be hoarded!

Tokara | 021 808 5900 | tokara.com