(This story was used in Travel Opulent Box’s Ezine)
To me weekend getaways should be sun-filled, lazy and idyllic. But here I am, bundled together with 3 others, in a rented country- cottage in the Riebeek Valley, waiting out the most brutal of storms. The pounding water on the tin roof is deafening, drowning out all sports commentary on TV and background female conversation. Our highly anticipated, restful weekend is fast being swept away along with the gale force winds screaming through the slapping shutters. With irritation and annoyance seeping into my dampening mood I realise that, if we all want to remain friends, we have to escape the confines of the deafening deluge. Paging through the local guide-book I find the most delectable solution.
Quicker than a summer cloudburst we’re in and out of the car, finding ourselves drip-drying in a quiet thatch roofed, fire-heated, olive oil tasting-room on a local olive farm. The constant low thud of the rain on the thatch adds comfort to the cosy orange ambiance generated by the warm glow of the fire. The air is filled with the scent from the crackling logs, and oddly enough, the sweet whiff of wet grass.
Greeted by the host, we’re presented with 4 sloped, stemmed tasting-glasses, each containing a mouthful of a silky golden liquid.
“The first thing when doing a tasting of Extra Virgin Olive oil is to ensure that the liquid is warm enough so that the bouquet of aromas can release to be properly enjoyed. Cup the bowl of the glass with your one hand and cover the opening with your other one,” says Ansie, the matriarch of the family who owns the farm. The four of us stand listening with hands positioned as if we were holding a hamster or a pet mouse.
I notice battalions of dark green bottles neatly lined, occupying a vast section of the room just as Ansie says, “air and too much light are enemies of olive oil. It should be kept in dark containers, preferably in a cool, dark place. It’s also a good idea to always keep the container top tight so that the oil’s exposure to air is kept to the minimum, and one should also never add fresh olive oil to older stock or containers that haven’t been thoroughly cleansed of older oil.”
By now the glasses we’re holding have warmed sufficiently and we’re told to first smell the oil.
Immediately I understand why the room swirls with the hint of wet grass. That is the primary fragrance which lightly overshadows the scents of fruits, nuts and artichoke.
“Now be surprised for the taste experience,” quips Ansie. Just as if tasting wine we all take in a small amount, swirling the warm, robust liquid around in the mouth and whistling in a small amount of air. It’s mouth-wateringly delicious, very similar to the aroma that filled my nostrils, prompting my stomach to cry out for an oil drizzled salad. The surprise comes along with the swallow – a quiet burning sensation pats the back of my throat which releases a small cough.
As if reading my thoughts, Ansie says, “No, you don’t have an infected throat, you’ve just experienced the natural pepper that the oil contains. Thinking that I’m going to be left with an oily after-taste I’m pleasantly surprised as the oil evaporates from my mouth, almost as if a vacuum has pulled it down my throat, leaving it filled with an aromatic, peppery taste, free from any oily residue.
I pick up one of the dark green bottles, labelled “light.”
“Anything to do with calories?”
“Not at all. Unlike wine where the different grape cultivars can drastically affect the taste and characteristics of the wine, the different olive cultivars only affects the strength of the taste of the oil, classifying it as light, moderate and strong. A “blend” olive oil, which is not uncommon, usually fits into the “moderate” category.”
Besides the farm’s label on the bottle I notice another sticker reading, “SA Olive 2012”
“This sticker is allocated to only Extra Virgin Olive oils that have been tested by the SA Olive association. It is a consumer guarantee ensuring that the oil is 100% Extra Virgin Olive oil. To be eligible – the oil must be locally produced within set codes and standards. The year of harvest must be accurate and the year date on the sticker marks a 2 year shelf – life from the displayed date. The oil must also have passed an organoleptic tasting test-ensuring that there are no bad quality flavours in the oil, and laboratory tested- proving that the oil contains less than 0.8% free fatty acids. The olives also need to be pressed at a temperature not exceeding 30 degrees Celsius. That is why it’s termed “cold pressed.”
Cradling bottles for purchase and heading to pay Ansie halts us with one last lesson.
“One should have 2 spoonfuls of olive oil daily because besides having the correct ratio of Omega 3&6 fatty acids; olive oil is also known to lower cholesterol, stabilise the blood sugar, is healthy to the digestive system, and eases arthritis.
Besides all these benefits, I’ve just been sold on the taste.
Olive oil tastings and purchases
Het Vlock Casteel Farm
Riebeek Kasteel – (80km NE from Cape town)
Ansie Vlok – 082 567 9132