Written by: Clifford Roberts; Photography: Johan Viljoen
There’s an inseparable link between olives and wine, and wheatfields. In the mind, they hop and skip through associations with small Mediterranean villages to conjure up a setting of warmth, community and happiness. Together, they define the Swartland.
Where olives are concerned, the region certainly isn’t the biggest contributor to South Africa’s production. While the Western Cape is the heartland of South Africa’s olive cultivation, one estimate puts Swartland land dedicated to olives at less than 10%. It is however the region’s unique matrix that makes it so memorable.
This reputation reaches its zenith in the Riebeek Valley Olive Festival, which started in 2000 and is traditionally held in early May. Approximately three tons of olives are tasted and consumed over the weekend of the event.
It is perhaps unsurprising that South Africa’s olive industry traces its roots to Italy. The stories of how the first trees got here around the turn of the last century, and the arrival of the first oil press (1936) are fascinating. Read more about it, here.
The Swartland’s main olive industry comprises a handful of enterprises. Some are growers, some are millers, and some do both in the cultivation of groves and production of olive oil.
This diversity was the subject of a recent online presentation entitled The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Swartland – Extra Virgin Edition. The video, which can be viewed here, provides a broad view of local producers as well as recipes for home cooking with olives and olive oil.
As with all stories, there is a beginning to when commercial farming of the fruit began in the region.
Swartland Olive Pioneer
Kloovenburg is renowned for its wines, but the farm was a pioneer of olive production in the region at the end of the 1980s. It has around 24ha dedicated to predominantly Mission olives on the farm. According to owner Piet du Toit, olives were first planted here as a means of diversification, but also to extend the work on the farm. Once wine grapes have been harvested and processed, teams prepare for the harvest of olives in the winter months.
Its first olive oil was pressed in 2000. After last season, Kloovenburg produced some 20 000 litres, part of which is used as an ingredient of its bath and beauty products. The farm also uses the olives in jams and tapenades.
Kloovenburg’s products can be purchased online here.
Almost across the road from Kloovenburg is Môrester farm, more widely known by its store, Het Vlock Kasteel. The name is derived from the surname of the owners and bastion-style architecture of the building.
Môrester is a fruit farm. Olive trees were added to the mix after the owners spied the opportunities presented by the olive festival. Observing that the same location principles in wine apply to olives, they set about bottling oils by cultivar to showcase terroir.
The store has since become a must-stop for visitors to the region. It is an olive cornucopia, presenting the fruit in what must surely be one of the region’s most diverse collections. Pre-lockdown, most of the items were available for tasting too.
Het Vlock Casteel’s delectable products are available online here.
An educational visit
The Olive Boutique classifies itself as the village mill, pressing olives even for the owner of one or two trees. Located in Riebeek Kasteel, the enterprise was established in 2000. In addition to contract pressing, the Olive Boutique has its own extra virgin olive oil brand. The owners have an arrangement with Sonquasdrift farm, which guarantees a supply of olives from five hectares of trees.
The boutique sells oils, olives and body care products via the physical store and an online platform. It also offers tastings and information about the local industry.
Wine & Olives
It is not uncommon to find olive trees on wine farms.
Among them is Lammershoek of the Paardeberg. The area is also home to Dragon Ridge on Fynbos Estate, which has some 900 olive trees scattered over two hectares. The fruit is pressed by the Olive Boutique.
Further afield is Org de Rac, near Piketberg. The farm has five hectares of olives comprising four varieties. The majority is Frantoia with the remainder taken up by Mission and Calamata varieties.
Plantings were expanded just before winter and the farm has acquired its own press. As with Org de Rac’s wines, its olive oil is organically certified and farmed.
When to visit
Not all of the properties mentioned are open for walk-in visits. Lockdown regulations have also upended most traditional business hours. If you’re planning to explore the olive and wine producers of the Swartland, call ahead to establish current conditions.
Extra virgin olive oil is produced in three different styles, namely delicate, medium intensity and intense olive oil. Pairing the correct extra virgin olive oil with the correct dish can add a tremendous amount the flavour to food.
Roast Artichoke with Salame and Throubes (Pair with the Kloovenburg delicate olive oil)
- 4 Artichoke hearts in oil
- 15g Throubes (sun dried olives) chopped
- 60 g Salami
- Preheat over to 200 degrees celcius
Cut artichoke hearts in half lengthwise and place cut side down onto a roasting tray. Roast until the outer petals start to brown. To serve sprinkle the artichokes with chopped throubes and torn salami slices.
Roast Garlic Skordalia (Pair with the Olive Boutique delicate olive oil)
- 3 medium Apache potatoes
- 1 head Garlic
- Juice of 1 Lemon
- 4g fresh thyme
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius
Wrap the head of garlic in foil and place in oven on an ovenproof dish, roast until cloves are soft. Boil the apache potatoes in their skins in a pot of heavily salted water, once boiled remove them from water and peel them while hot, cut them into quarters and add them to a food processor. (note: try not to let the potatoes cool down as the texture will become gluey). Add lemon juice and y cloves of roasted garlic, blend and incorporate the oil. Season to taste with salt and very lightly with pepper. Allow to cool to room temperature and serve with a few de-stalked thyme leaves.
Caprese with heirloom tomato, bocconcini and basil (Pair with the Dragon Ridge medium intensity olive oil)
- 350g Heirloom cherry tomatoes mixed (yellow, green, tiger stripe, red)
- 25ml Sunflower oil
- 150g Bocconcini
- 5g Fresh basil
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius
Separate the tomatoes into their different types. Cut the tiger stripe tomatoes in quarters. Blanche the green tomatoes in boiled water for 30 seconds and refresh in a bath of ice water, peel and set on a paper towel to dry (don’t leave it on the paper towel too long as they will stick). In a roasting tray mix the yellow and red cherry tomatoes with the sunflower oil and roast until the skin begins to blister, remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Mix the tomatoes and season with salt. Remove the basil leaves from the stalks and roll them into cigars, finely chiffonade the leaves just before serving. To serve ensure all components are at room temperature, mix the tomatoes, bocconcini and freshly cut basil.
Slow roast beetroot hummus (Pair with Het Vlock Casteel PPC Intense Olive Oil)
- 3 medium Beetroots
- 200g coarse salt
- 1 tin chickpeas
- 60g Tahini
- 1 clove garlic
- Juice of 1 Lemon
- Preheat oven to 160 degrees celcius
Wash and dry the beetroot in an oven-proof dish and add a thin layer of salt, place beetroot on the salt and use the rest of the salt to cover the beetroot. Place the dish with beetroot in the oven and bake for 3-4 hours, when done the beetroot will be soft, remove from the oven and allow to cool enough to be able to handle them. Peel the beetroot and cut into quarters, place into a food processor and blend until smooth. Add the drained chickpeas to the tahini mixture and blend until smooth, add the beetroot puree mix and season to taste. (note: if your hummus is too thick you can add water a tablespoon at a time to adjust the consistency). Remove from food processor and reserve for serving. The hummus should be served at room temperature.
Rooibos and oak-smoked exotic mushrooms (Paired with the Org de Rac organic intense olive oil)
- Exotic asian mushroom pack (shimeji, shitake, king beech)
- 2 bags Rooibos tea
- Fine oak shavings
- 25ml water
- Sunflower oil
Separate the shimeji mushrooms into three bunches and place the cap side down into a sieve that fits into a pot. Remove the stalks from the shitake mushrooms and slice the king beech mushroom into 5mm slices. Using a pastry brush, brush the mushrooms with a very light coating of oil. In the pot used to smoke the shimeji mushrooms empty two bags of rooibos, add an equal amount of oak shavings and add the water. Place the pot onto the stove at a high temperature and place the sieve with the prepared mushrooms into the pot, cover with a lid. Once the pot starts smoking lower the heat and smoke for five minutes. Once done remove from heat and keep the lid closed. Preheat a griddle pan to a medium-high temperature, place the king beech mushrooms and shitakes into the pan and grill until you get light grill marks on the mushrooms (note: the grill marks should not be black as this will add unwanted bitterness to the dish). Mis the smoked and grilled mushrooms in a bowl and season with salt, reserve at room temperature until being served (if serving the next day refrigerate the mushrooms but allow enough time for them to come to room temperature before serving).
Roast Butternut with puffed pumpkin seeds, pistachio nuts and grilled feta crumb (Paired with the Lammershoek medium intensity oil)
- 250g diced Butternut
- 25g Pumpkin seeds
- 35g Pistacio nuts
- 30ml Sunflower oil
- 100g Feta (unbrined)
- Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees celcius
Place butternut in an ovenproof dish and season with salt and drizzle with sunflower oil, roast butternut until the edges of the cubes start to caramalise. Heat 25ml oil in a pan on medium heat, add the pumpkin seeds and toss until they start popping, remove from pan and drain oil away on a piece of paper towel. Place a block of feta onto a roasting pan and bake in the oven until the sides of the cheese start to brown, remove from the oven once done and allow to cool. To serve break the feta into small pieces and mix with puffed pumpkin seeds, pistachio nuts and roast butternut, serve at room temperature or slightly warmed for pairing.