On a perfect autumn day, 40 Slow Foodies descended on the quiet Scherpenheuwel valley on the southern banks of the Breede River, to learn about all things olive. After the early departure from Cape Town, the sight of coffee and biscuits on arrival was a propitious start to a wonderful day…
Brenda and Nick Wilkinson of Rio Largo Estate took us on a full tour, from ‘tree to bottle’. After a visit to the olive orchards and trying our hand at picking, we heard from the farm manager about the olive-picking season and the three cultivars ̶ Frantoio, Leccino and Coratina ̶ at Rio Largo estate. The estate is in the perfect location as the Scherpenheuwel valley is dry, but the Breede River is used to year round irrigation to pamper the olive trees into producing huge yields.
Next, we saw the processing plant, where the olives are chopped, squished and made into what looked like tapenade, and the oil is extracted. The processing plant is immaculate, with the very best Italian-made machines for quality olive oil.
Brenda then explained that fresh olive oil is the most delicious and nutritious, and that you should be using your oil within 2 years of harvest. In South Africa, we are lucky to have the SA Oil Association labels, so you know exactly what year the oil was harvested. This is hugely different to those imported from Europe: who knows when those olives were harvested, and what conditons the oil was kept under. Oil should be kept out of direct light, and air is also the enemy: Brenda showed us that the ‘papsak’ foil bag is in fact, the perfect solution for keep oils in tip-top condition! We also heard that the Rio Largo blend of Frantoio, Leccino and Coratina was created by Nick and has won many awards!
We left Rio Largo farm to have lunch at De Kaap Country restaurant. Before lunch, we tested various international, local and ages of oils. Everyone agreed that the South African oils were absolutely delicious: fresh, peppery and green. We should be supporting our local producers: the olive oil is some of the best in the world!
Lunch was simply delicious, and De Kaap is in the most beautiful position… Finally we dragged ourselves away. Our final stop was Nick and Brenda’s Table Olive farm in McGregor, Voor Den Berg. The farm manager, Sam Ellis, told us that the olives must be harvested much more delicately than for olive oil. After which, they are brined and left for circa 18 months!
We then all bottled some ready cured olives, so we could all take some home, along with a bottle of Rio Largo olive oil. What a treat!
Thank you to Nick and Brenda for a perfect day!